More Options Search

They're After Your Access

Published in the January 2011 Issue Published online: Jan 17, 2011 Feature Kim Raap
Viewed 21 time(s)

Have you heard of the Winter Wildlands Alliance? It describes itself as a national "human-powered winter sports" group and therefore promotes access for backcountry/cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

WWA exists to spin the truth about snowmobiles and is headquartered in Boise, ID, with a public lands director who works from Jackson, WY. It has a presence in about a dozen states across the snowbelt and to say it does not like snowmobiles is an understatement-it exists solely to work against snowmobiling. WWA's members really do not like you and they're after your snowmobiling access on public lands across the country.

WWA sent a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture this past August urging the Forest Service to amend its 2005 Travel Management Rule to regulate the use of snowmobiles. This 2005 Rule is what has been used to restrict all wheeled off-road vehicles (ATVs, dirt bikes, jeeps, trucks, etc.) to designated trails and eliminate their cross-country travel on national forests. WWA wants the forest service to do the same for snowmobiles-restrict them to trails and close vast areas to cross-country travel on them.

This petition was signed by about 90 of WWA's "friends," including many of the usual groups who don't like snowmobiles: Sierra Club, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wilderness Workshop, Wilderness Watch, Montana and Wyoming Wilderness Associations, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Access Fund, The Lands Council, Wild Earth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Defenders of Wildlife, Colorado Mountain Club, Colorado Wild, 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, Grand Canyon Trust, Quiet Use Coalition, Snowlands Network, Idaho Conservation League, Wyoming Conservation Voters, Friends of the Routt Backcountry, Oregon Wild, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Peaceful Roads and Trails Vermont, Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol and the Togwotee Pass Backcountry Alliance.

Others who signed the petition might surprise you since they sometimes pretend to support multiple use on public lands or you might even support them through your summer recreation activities. They include: International Mountain Bicycling Association, American Hiking Society, American Canoe Association, American Whitewater, Continental Divide Trail Alliance and the Outdoor Alliance. There are more than 50 other regional groups which I haven't listed who also signed on against snowmobiling. They're all working together to regulate snowmobiles and want to limit your access.

You should also be aware that WWA's two largest funding sponsors are REI and Clif Bar. Other major funders include: Keen, Patagonia, Black Diamond Equipment, Outdoor Research, Smart Wool, Mountain Safety Research, Karhu, Osprey Packs, Atlas Snowshoes and Cloudveil. Keep this in mind when you're making your future outdoor gear purchases. Do you really want to support companies who fund WWA to work against your snowmobiling access?

WWA and its friends want the Forest Service to do Winter Travel Plans to decide what areas and trails should be open to snowmobiles and which should not, just as forests have had to do for summer recreational vehicles because of the 2005 Rule. Why do they want this rule expanded to include snowmobiles? Because they know that anytime they can get the Forest Service to do any type of new plan, nonmotorized recreation zones will grow in size and number and motorized recreation zones will shrink. It is a fact: motorized recreation has never gained more riding areas than it has lost in any forest planning action-ever, anywhere.

WWA grumbles about what they call the "snowmobile loophole" in the 2005 Travel Rule and claims it leads to an "anything goes" approach to winter management that "allows snowmobiles to dominate the winter landscape." That simply is not true. The reality is that nonmotorized folks, if they choose, are allowed to recreate on almost 100 percent of Forest Service lands. On the other hand, the starting place for snowmobiling access on most forests is 50 percent or less and sometimes far less than 25 percent of these public lands is open to snowmobiling. That is not "dominance" by snowmobiles.

The WWA executive director has been quoted as saying, "For reasons that are still unclear, winter use by over-snow vehicles [snowmobiles] was exempted by the rule." But the truth is that the existing rule actually has a clause that allows local district rangers discretion to do winter travel planning-if they believe local issues warrant considering changes to snowmobile management. Several forest ranger districts have chosen to do so, but this is not good enough for WWA. It wants all forest districts to be mandated to consider stricter snowmobiling restrictions versus their considering different management options based upon need. So already having more than half of forest lands for their exclusive use is not enough-WWA and its friends want even more from you and figures this is a way to get it.

And while WWA and its friends refuse to accept it, the answer as to why this "exemption" was included in the 2005 Rule is clear: the Forest Service properly recognized that impacts from wheeled vehicles which operate over land are clearly different than impacts from snowmobiles operated over several feet of snow. Therefore it clearly stated in the Rule that "cross-country use of snowmobiles presents a different set of management issues and environmental impacts than cross-country use of other types of motor vehicles," thus appropriately providing its local forest managers management options versus mandates. Additionally, Forest Management Plans already divide each national forest by motorized and nonmotorized management zones, so WWA is trying to get each piece of that pie sliced yet again.

The American Council of Snowmobile Associations, state snowmobile associations and local snowmobile clubs have worked hard on positive partnerships with the Forest Service that help provide snowmobiling access opportunities and funding for trails and facilities. They are the only group working full-time every day for your continued snowmobiling access. And as a snowmobiler you need to be aware that their partnerships and positive working relationships helped the forest service properly understand the differences in impacts and management needs between summer and winter vehicles. As a result, snowmobiling was treated properly and fairly when this rule was written.

ACSA and its state associations support the 2005 Travel Rule as it currently exists and are working on your behalf to resist the WWA petition and any unwarranted changes to the Rule.

You, too, need to keep watch on WWA and its efforts to close even more areas to snowmobiles. If the Forest Service decides to respond to any of WWA's requests you may need to get engaged by attending meetings or writing letters at some point in the future.

ACSA provides some great resources to help you defend against threats to snowmobiling access including two publications: Multiple Use Trails: Facts and Myths about Snowmobiling and Access Guide for Snowmobiling on Private and Public Lands. Visit the ACSA website at www.snowmobilers.org to get more information about ACSA, state snowmobile associations, and these publications.

If you don't already support ACSA and state snowmobile associations, you should since they're working hard for your access regardless of whether you're their member or not. And since they're working everyday for your continued snowmobiling access, supporting them through memberships and donations is the best investment you can make for your future snowmobiling access.

Always ride smart, be safe, and never take your snowmobiling access for granted.

Raap is the owner of Trails Work Consulting. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD, and works to improve and protect snowmobiling access across the United States and Canada.