Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Forest Service Releases Inadequate Draft Winter Recreational Management Rule
“This long-delayed rule is a first step for addressing the pollution, wildlife harassment and recreational user conflicts caused by snowmobile recreation. Unfortunately as currently written the proposed rule falls short of our expectations. We will be working to ensure the final rule is as protective as possible for winter wildlife habitat and nonmotorized winter recreation, as clearly required by the Executive Orders that govern all off-road vehicle recreation on federal public lands,” said Bethanie Walder.
In 2005, the Forest Service adopted a travel management rule that separated management of over-snow vehicles from that of wheeled off-road vehicles. Since then nearly 90% of the national forests have significantly improved wheeled off-road vehicle management. But the exemption of over-snow vehicles has resulted in continued negative impacts to people and wildlife.Unregulated snowmobile use in important winter wildlife habitat, when food and resources are scarce, can cause serious and sometimes deadly stress to wildlife.
The proposed regulation fails to ensure consistent snowmobile management from forest to forest. Wheeled off-road vehicles are currently regulated so that all roads, trails and areas are managed as closed unless designated open to motorized use, creating a very simple management structure. The new snowmobile rule allows individual forests to either adopt that method or its opposite – designating areas as open unless posted closed to snowmobile use – which is an approach that has failed in the past.
“The limited restrictions for snowmobile recreation on Forest Service lands have real impacts on wildlife. Snowmobile use in grizzly bear denning habitat or wolverine habitat, for example, can seriously impact those species,” said Sarah Peters. “Beautiful, but threatened, species like the Canada lynx are also negatively impacted by snowmobile use in the high country.”
In addition, most snowmobiles use two-stroke engines, which dump unburned fuel into the snow. In heavy-use areas, winter snowmelt can lead to toxic flushes into nearby streams, rivers and lakes, harming fish and other aquatic species, while also degrading municipal drinking water supplies.
Snowmobile recreation has additional and significant recreational impacts: it displaces other winter recreationists who seek solitude, quiet experiences in nature, and wildness. “While everyone has a right to enjoy our national forests, no one has a right to abuse them. When snowmobiles are present,quiet users are evicted, or their experience significantly degraded. This proposed rule fails to address these problems, and we will be working to ensure the rule is fixed,” said Sarah Peters. “Regardless, once the rule is finalized,interested citizens will need to participate in the process to ensure that snowmobile recreation is designated only in areas where it will have the least impact on wildlife, water quality, and other winter recreationists.”
The draft rule is open for public comment for 45 days,through August 4, 2014. The Forest Service is under a court-ordered deadline to complete a final rule by September 9, 2014. The federal register notice can be found at http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2014-14273_PI.pdf.