By Elizabeth Laden
Island Park News
Island Park, ID - Environmental groups have launched another assault on snowmobiling, a staple of Island Park and West Yellowstone's winter economy. Three anti-motorized recreation groups have filed a lawsuit against the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest over its Travel Plan regulation allowing snowmobiles on more than half of the forest's 3.3 million acres.
Although the forest is in Montana, access to one of the world's most popular snowmobiling areas on Mt. Jefferson is through the Targhee-Caribou National Forest via trails accessed off the Yale-Kilgore Road in Island Park.
Wildlands CPR, Montanans for Quiet Recreation and Friends of the Bitterroot filed the lawsuit recently in a Missoula, Montana federal court. They assert that the Forest Service failed to properly analyze how snowmobile use in the forest affects numerous wildlife species, including elk, wolverine and mountain goats. They charge that the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest plan, approved in 2009, allows snowmobiles to use 60 percent of the forest and this takes away opportunities for non-motorized users.
Peri Suenram, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest planner, said her agency is in the process of reviewing the court documents and it is too early to comment. She said as of now, the traditional snowmobiling area on Mt. Jefferson is set to be open this winter, but until the Justice Department reviews the lawsuit, the Forest Service cannot say if the suit will change snowmobile access to the mountain.
Wildlands CPR is based in Missoula and claims to offer "winning, positive solutions to protecting and restoring our public lands." The organization works to eliminate as many backcountry roads as possible, especially any used for motorized recreation. It has been involved in around 25 lawsuits against the timber industry, suing to stop roads and motorized recreation. Its restoration campaign director is Sue Gunn. It's most recent website update was in May 2010.
Montanans For Quiet Recreation leaders say they're "dedicated to conserving and restoring landscapes for quiet muscle powered recreation." They're based in Cameron, MT, and Phil Knight, a long time radical enviromentalist activist, is their leader. Their most recent site update was in August 2008.
Friends of the Bitterroot is based in Hamilton, MT, and describes itself as a "small group of local conservation activists dedicated to protecting the quality of life in the Bitterroot Valley and surrounding backcountry. Its president is Jim Miller.
Snowmobiling advocates recently learned of another possible assault on their sport. The Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) is in the process of initiating an action that could drastically reduce snowmobiling on all national forests.
WWA is circulating a petition asking for support for a request they want to make of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove the over-snow vehicle (OSV) exemption from the 2005 Travel Management Rule.
This would put snowmobiles and other Over Snow Vehicles under the same management standards as other classes of off-road vehicles. The 2005 Travel Management Rule restricts off-road vehicle use to designated routes, trails and areas on National Forest System lands. If the request were to be granted, snowmobiles could no longer ride off trail in a national forest. The request has not yet been presented to the Forest Service.