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Stepping up to protect Sierra Nevada red fox, other wildlife from motorized winter travel

Sierra Snowmobile Foundation et al. v. United States Forest Service
Pending, intervention
Case No.
Date Filed
January 21, 2022
State, Venue
California, Federal District Court for the Eastern District of California
Jessica Blome (local counsel), Lauren Rule and Hannah Clements (Advocates for the West), Marla Fox
Public Lands
WildEarth Guardians and the California Wilderness Coalition sought to intervene in an October 2021 lawsuit in the Eastern District of California federal district court brought by snowmobiling groups objecting to the agency’s decision to place limits on over-snow vehicle use on the national forest in northern California. The two conservation groups intervened to defend the Forest Service’s winter travel plan for the Stanislaus National Forest in part, but also allege the plan does not go far enough to protect vulnerable winter wildlife. The groups allege the Forest Service failed to consider protections for imperiled wildlife when it designated motorized winter recreation trails and use areas on the Stanislaus.

The Stanislaus National Forest is home to a distinct population segment (DPS) of the Sierra Nevada red fox listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). That fox population has evolved to live in cold areas with deep snow, with physical features such as large paws that provide for efficient snow travel, but has been declining for decades and currently consists of only 20 to 40 adults. Its core population lives on the Stanislaus National Forest near Sonora Pass, including within a 411-acre “play area” designated by the Forest Service as open to over-snow vehicles.

The Stanislaus is also home to the ESA-listed Yosemite toad and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. Both species emerge from overwintering habitat in spring when winter snows are still melting away, and can be killed by snowmobiles as they travel to wet meadows and ponds to breed.

The conservation groups are asking that the court keep the Stanislaus winter travel plan in place while it directs the agency to consider the harmful impacts of motorized winter recreation on endemic wildlife such as the Sierra Nevada red fox, Pacific marten, Yosemite toad, and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. The snowmobiling groups have asked the court to set aside minimum snow depth requirements and restrictions on motorized snow travel at lower elevations where snow cover is often spotty and on areas of the forest that haven’t been designated as open to travel.