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.
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