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Defending Forest Service efforts to protect winter wildlife from motorized recreation

Idaho State Snowmobile Association v. United States Forest Service
Pending, on appeal
Case No.
1:19-cv-00195-DCN (district court), 21-35955 (appeal)
Date Filed
October 10, 2019
State, Venue
Idaho, Federal District Court for the District of Idaho
Marla Fox, Lauren Rule (Advocates for the West)
Public Lands
WildEarth Guardians and Winter Wildlands Alliance filed suit to help defend a winter travel plan issued by the Forest Service that regulates snowmobile use on the Fairfield Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest in Central Idaho. The area at issue is home to a large population of mountain goats that winter there annually, and also is used by wolverines. A recent study determined that snowmobile use is detrimental to female wolverines during their denning period, which is winter and early spring.

The Forest Service’s new winter travel plan allowed for significantly increased public snowmobile use in the north half of the Fairfield Ranger District, but also closed the northernmost portion of the area to protect important habitat for mountain goats, wolverines and lynx. The entire north half of the district had previously been inaccessible for public snowmobile use due to wildlife closure for wintering elk. After numerous requests by snowmobilers to lift that restriction, the Forest Service agreed, and developed the new plan. Despite newly opening more than 138,000 acres to snowmobile use, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association challenged the Forest Service’s because of the northernmost closure for wildlife.

The District Court granted the snowmobilers’ NEPA claim, holding that the evidence did not support the Forest Service’s decision to restrict the northernmost region to protect wintering wildlife. The court reversed and remanded the Forest Service’s decision, resulting in the prior elk wildlife closure going back into effect to prevent snowmobile use in all of the northern region. The Forest Service and Guardians and are partners appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit, and the case is pending.