Judge Sides With Backcountry Skiers In Use Lawsuit

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, Associated Press

 - A federal judge in Idaho says the U.S. Forest Service broke the law when it didn't craft rules to govern snowmobile travel, handing a victory to powder-loving backcountry ski enthusiasts in national forests across the country.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush ruled April 1 that the Forest Service must re-visit regulations designating areas of use and non-use by off-road vehicles in a way that includes snowmobiles. Some forests opted to exempt snowmobiles when the rules were revised in 2005.

The Idaho-based Winter Wildlands Alliance argued that the agency's failure to cover the machines was leading to conflicts between snowmobilers and backcountry skiers.

Alliance director Mark Menlove says the ruling is a monumental victory.

Bush ordered the Forest Service to write a new rule consistent with the executive order within 180 days.


SnoWest also received this statement April 2 from the BlueRibbon Coalition and Idaho State Snowmobile Association:

Snowmobile advocates today responded to a recent decision in United States District Court for the District of Idaho that directs the U.S. Forest Service to promulgate new motorized travel management regulations. The decision was released on March 29 and declared unlawful the agency's 2005 Travel Management Rule for violating "plain language" in a 40-year-old executive order and allowing it to be "discretionary" whether the Forest Service designates "areas of use or non-use" by snowmobiles. The 2005 rule was years and millions of dollars in the making.

While it is typical to conduct further proceedings to determine a proper remedy in an environmental case like this, the court's decision simply announces a new rule must be issued within 180 days. The parties to the case, including snowmobile advocates from the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, American Council of Snowmobile Associations and BlueRibbon Coalition, are still interpreting the court's ruling. 

"This is either a tectonic shift or much ado about nothing," said Sandra Mitchell, ISSA's public lands director. "Forest Service rules and maps have for decades regulated not only areas of 'use and non-use' but details to the gnat's eyelash regarding winter use of specific roads and trails for motorized and non-motorized users. If it does anything, this decision will create unnecessary controversy and further sap the planning budget of an agency already fearful of being raided in the name of fiscal reform."

The decision is subject to appeal for sixty days.  A copy of the decision may be viewed here.

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