Sled Grooming To End In West Pioneers


Following are two articles that pertain to a well known snowmobile area currently shared and enjoyed by many mechanized, non-motorized and motorized (including snowmobiles) winter enthusiasts in the Pioneer Mountains in southwestern Montana.

This decision is specific to snowmobile use. According to SAWS, on this go around the wolverine is the scapegoat despite the apparent continued presence of the wolverine with snowmobile access. Now trail grooming activity will no longer be allowed due to the disruption it causes? Snowmobilers in the Wise River, Wisdom, Dewey, Polaris, Jackson, Dillon, Butte and Anaconda areas who frequent this spectacular riding area, not to mention the out of area and out of state visitors, will no longer enjoy a significant portion of well maintained main trails (95 miles of trail) with the northern half of the area being affected immediately and a phase out of the southern half to occur.

Businesses in the Wise River, Wisdom, Dewey, Polaris and Jackson area will be experiencing a negative backlash with the ripple extending into satellite communities. 

Read cautiously, Senator Tester's comment. Despite his comment, the area will also take a hard anti-motorized, anti-snowmobile hit with Senator Tester's S 1470 wilderness bill aka Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. But a contradictory statement is made again by the Senator with regard to his bill allowing snowmobile travel only on groomed trails in recreation areas when, just recently, the honorable Senator went on record assuring he wants snowmobilers to know his intent is for snowmobile use to continue as it exists presently. So what is it? Trail only or open riding access?
Sled grooming to end in West Pioneers

By Nick Gevock
Montana Standard
The U.S. Forest Service will end snowmobile grooming in the West Pioneer Mountains under the terms of a settlement in a lawsuit reached with two environmental groups.

Nearly 95 miles of groomed trails will be closed in the West Pioneer wilderness study area, according to the groups Wildlands CPR of Missoula and Friends of the Bitterroot based in Hamilton.

However, snowmobiling in ungroomed areas will still be allowed, according to John Grove, a spokesman with the Bitterroot group.

The groups, which sued the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest this year to end the practice, said the area south of Wise River will be quieter and better habitat for wolverines.

"When you start grooming, you're not maintaining the wilderness character; you're allowing people to move in there a lot faster and a lot more people," Grove said.

Ray Smith, regional appeals coordinator with the Forest Service in Missoula, said recently officials hadn't yet reviewed the settlement and declined to comment.

But Marv Johnson with the Jackpine Savages Snowmobile Club in Wise River said the settlement will hurt the economies of numerous small towns that support snowmobilers in the area. His group does the majority of the grooming with financial support from a Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks program that helps pay the cost.

He said Wise River, Wisdom, Polaris and Dewey all have businesses that will suffer, as well as residents who enjoy riding the trails.

And Johnson said the impacts that the environmental groups claim of snowmobiles are overblown because the area gets hardly any cross-country skiers, while the wildlife has migrated to lower elevations.

"I keep getting this e-mail that we're bothering the solitude-who's there to bother?" he said. "I've ridden over 10,000 miles in the past three years and you don't see elk, moose or deer." The lawsuit was filed after a 2008 decision to authorize the grooming in the 148,000-acre wilderness study area, Grove said. That was done without public review and comment and didn't comply with the Montana Wilderness Study Act, the groups contended.

Grove said when that law was passed in 1977 it allowed uses already taking place and grooming wasn't one of them.

The groups sued to overturn the five-year permit the Forest Service issued to allow the grooming. He said the agency made that decision using a categorical exclusion that didn't require public participation.

The settlement calls for an immediate end to grooming in the northern half of the area, while it will be phased out in the southern half.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., issued a press release stating that his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act would designate most of the area a recreation area that would allow grooming.

"There is plenty of room for everyone in our forests, which is why I'm trying to settle the longstanding dispute over wilderness study areas," he said. "The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act would specifically turn the West Pioneers into a 130,000-acre recreation area which would be open to groomed snowmobile trails."

Great Falls Tribune article
BILLINGS (AP) - A federal judge has signed off on a plan to phase out snowmobile grooming in parts of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula approved a settlement that calls for grooming to end on an estimated 95 miles of trails after environmentalists sued over the practice.

His order comes after a deal was reached last month between federal officials and two groups, Wildlands CPR and Friends of the Bitterroot.
By grooming the trails in the Pioneer Mountains, the groups said the U.S. Forest Service was threatening the survival of wolverines, a rare predator that lives only in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.
John Grove with Friends of the Bitterroot says an end to grooming will force snowmobile users to travel more slowly, reducing noise that can scare off the animals and making it less likely the riders will reach wolverine territory.

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