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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
provides some great resources to help you defend against threats to
snowmobiling access including two publications: Multiple
Use Trails: Facts and Myths about Snowmobiling
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
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.
ride smart, be safe, and never take your snowmobiling access for
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.