Reopen A Closed Spectacular Backcountry Snowmobile Area? Believe It.

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Dear Editor:

(ED—Stan Spencer sent letter in as a letter to the editor but because of its timeliness, we’re running it on the webpage rather than in the print edition of SnoWest Magazine.)

It has been 50 years since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. You all know the ramifications of the Act as it pertains to snowmobiling in particular. NOT. The Great Burn riding areas, Hoodoo, Surveyor and Williams Lake, in the Clearwater National Forest, were closed in March, 2014 as a result of the 2012 Clearwater NF Travel Plan.

However an opportunity to overturn that is now on the table. Due to a lot of well crafted input to the Clearwater Collaborative Forest Plan Revision from a large number of snowmobilers from many states, but primarily from Idaho and Montana, two alternative proposed actions for the 140,000 acre Great Burn Recommended Wilderness Area (RWA) have been submitted for public comment. One, of course, is that it all continues to be designated a RWA, including 4,000 acres known as the Beaver Ridge area that would become an addition to the Bitterroot Selway Wilderness. The other alternative is establishing boundary adjustments within the designated Wilderness area re-opening about 20,000 acres, including Beaver Ridge, that would create Special Management Areas (SMA). These areas would ”allow low level over the snow motor vehicle use.”

The areas designated under this proposal followed the mapping of historic snowmobile areas Sandra Mitchell (ISSA) and I submitted to the Forest Service last year except for one adjustment of reduced riding area in the Goat Lake and Blacklead Mtn. area. I’ll talk about that later.

The proposal to include the SMA would not only re-open the historic riding areas in the Great Burn but, equally important, it would establish a precedent for establishing snowmobile use in all future forest plans. We simply cannot let this opportunity pass us by.

I can tell you the Wilderness advocates are not happy with this proposed alternative and are doing a full court press to get it removed. They also have large nationwide networks to draw comments from. Our only hope to counter their comment strategy is to deliver more fact-based comments supporting the proposed action. Regardless of the substantive issues, it does become a numbers game.

What is in our favor, the Great Burn is a primitive access area and  there are no user or ecological conflicts to justify (in reality) keeping it closed to snowmobiles. The arguments put forth by Wilderness advocates are generally subjective and not supported by fact. The issue at the end of the day is human powered recreation vs. motorized recreation and in this case there is virtually no human powered activity in the winter season.

To comment you can use two e-mail alternatives: fpr_npclw@fs.fed.us or http://my.usgs.gov/ppgis/studio/launch/4290. The second e-mail address goes to the e-collaborative site and you can also view other comments made to the site. This site limits the number of characters you can use. The first e-mail site does not limit the size of your comments and will also link you to the FS site to view the proposed action.

The pertinent information is on pages 68-71. The maps are quite hard to read. For more detail and factual talking points to couch your comments please go to Backcountry Sled Patriots  Facebook page. Be sure to include in your comments the noted changes needed for the Goat Lake and Blacklead Mtn. area.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me at www. sledpatriots.com. The comment period was just recently extended to Nov. 14, 2014. Also, by commenting now you will be given standing to comment and object at the next two steps of the Clearwater Forest Plan Revision.  Input, time and hard work by snowmobilers convinced the Forest Service to listen and propose an action to support our historic riding areas. Your input is needed to keep them listening to execute on that proposed action: re-opening one of the best riding areas in the Lower 48 and re-thinking how snowmobile access is determined in an RWA. The Clearwater NF planning team needs to be commended for thinking out of the box and (finally) considering a common sense approach to backcountry snowmobiling access.

You may have never ridden in the Great Burn area and/or don’t live in Montana or Idaho and  think the Clearwater NF Forest Plan will never affect your riding area(s) but implementation, or non implementation, of boundary adjustments for special management areas in RWAs will at some point affect you if you ride the backcountry. This is a huge opportunity for all snowmobilers to unite and engage to “MAKE IT HAPPEN.” Don’t sit on the sidelines and “let it happen.”

Stan Spencer

President

Backcountry Sled Patriots

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