20 years of working on public land issues for the Idaho State
Snowmobile Association (ISSA), I thought I had seen it all, but then
along came the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan and its amazing
cast of characters and circumstances.
include one former chief of the Forest Service, the current agency
chief, an unwritten/written policy/guideline, a federal judge and
finally a new forest supervisor caught in the middle. All of this
adds up to what I consider to be one of the greatest injustices in
the history of federal land management. The saddest part of this tale
is that if not corrected, it will impact every snowmobiler who rides
on our national forests.
all started during the tenure of Forest Service Region One's (R-1)
Regional Forester, Brad Powell. An unwritten regional policy was
created and transmitted to the region's forest supervisors
requiring them to manage all of their Recommended Wilderness Areas
(RWAs) with the same restrictions to public use that apply to
congressionally-designated wildernesses. In other words, no motorized
or mechanized recreation.
current nationwide Forest Service policy requires that all RWAs be
managed in a way that will not impair their future qualification for
Wilderness, but doesn't specifically exclude all historic motorized
and mechanized access.
Forester Abigail Kimball, who replaced Mr. Powell, supported this
policy. When Ms. Kimball was appointed chief of the Forest Service,
her replacement and now chief Tom Tidwell continued to support the
in 2007 he took the next step by putting the unwritten policy onto
paper, including with it a system of evaluating wilderness potential
of roadless areas in view of existing motorized use. The policy
statement says under "Topic: Management of Recommended Wilderness"
that the region "will be evaluating the areas that were recommended
for wilderness designation in the first round of planning to
determine if they should still be recommended. They also will be
evaluating all other inventoried roadless areas to see if they should
be recommended. For all of these areas, the forest needs to
determine, through public involvement and the wilderness evaluation
process, the best use of each area."
document goes on to say that areas with a significant amount of
motorized use should not be designated as RWAs and if motorized use
of an RWA was significant it would be removed from that designation
or the boundary adjusted.
of these happenings set the stage for what was about to take place in
the Clearwater National Forest. The forest supervisor was forced by a
federal court decision to put forest planning on hold, but decided to
move forward with travel planning because of the 2005 Off Highway
Vehicle Rule deadline. He also decided that the forest would not
amend its 1987 Forest Plan with the travel plan. As a result, they
would not analyze RWA boundaries to determine, as directed by the
regional forester's 2007 policy guideline, if they should be
adjusted to exclude areas with significant motorized/mechanized
recreation use, such as snowmobiling and mountain biking.
a result, snowmobilers got the deck stacked against them with no way
to protect their use in one of the finest backcountry alpine areas in
north Idaho, the Great Burn. Regardless of the persuasiveness of our
arguments, the history of our use or the support of Idaho's
Congressional Delegation and Governor, the Forest Service said `no
way' and banned us. No resource issues were at stake; we were
banned simply because of a policy created behind closed doors with
absolutely no input from the public.
along with other recreation groups and the affected counties,
appealed the Travel Plan decision, but to no avail. However, this
issue was too big and the implications too great for us to simply
walk away. In August, ISSA and the BlueRibbon Coalition filed suit in
federal court challenging the Clearwater National Forest's decision
to manage RWAs as wilderness and for National Environmental Policy
Act violations they made to get to that point.
are many reasons to be angry over the actions of Region 1 and the
Clearwater National Forest, but the most glaring is the fact that
this decision was made because a few people decided that managing
RWAs as wilderness would reduce future opposition to the passage of
when did the Forest Service become a political activist organization?
The Forest Service is responsible for the stewardship of the public's
land, not for managing the political landscape. We begged and
pleaded with them to postpone any decisions on RWAs until they had
completed revision of their forest plan, but they refused to consider
it. We didn't even get the often insincere, "Put the request
in your comments and we will consider it." The Clearwater has
now started Forest Plan revision, but because our use has been
eliminated from the RWAs we can no longer make a case to adjust the
boundaries for an historic use that is not compatible with
wilderness; we aren't there anymore.
more sobering is the possibility that this policy, which effectively
creates an enduring system of administratively designated
wildernesses, could be adopted nationwide. We cannot allow it to go
unchallenged and the Clearwater is the agency's test case for the
is committed to take this fight to its conclusion. The issue is too
important and the injustice too glaring, but legal battles are
you agree with us and want to help, please send a contribution to the
Idaho State Snowmobile Defense Fund, 10400 Overland Road #384, Boise,
assure you it will be greatly appreciated.
has served as the Public Lands Director for the Idaho State
Snowmobile Association for the past 20 years. She previously worked
for 12 years for former Congressman/Senator Steve Symms in Lewiston,