US Forest Service required to look at snowmobile regulations
April 9, 2013
LAKE TAHOE — The way the U.S. Forest Service regulates snowmobiling could change following a federal court decision late last month.
On March 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush found a 2005 travel management rule by the Forest Service conflicted with presidential orders issued in the 1970s requiring federal land management agencies to ensure off-road vehicle use protects resources, promotes safety and minimizes conflicts.
Bush ordered the Forest Service to develop rules regarding snowmobiling that are consistent with the executive orders within 180 days of the judgment.
Leaving snowmobiling out of the travel management plan was arbitrary and capricious, according to attorneys for the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the Idaho-based group that challenged the plan.
In a statement last Tuesday, the Nevada City-based Snowlands Network called on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to comprehensively regulate snowmobile use in its land management plan, which has yet to be finalized, in the wake of the court decision.
"This ruling will affect all National Forests and confirms the position we have advocated with the Forest Service in California and Nevada," Gail Ferrell, Snowlands Network President, said in the statement. "Winter is not a 'secondary' season; the Forest Service needs to comprehensively address the adverse impacts of motorized recreation in winter as well as in summer."
Although requiring the snowmobiling to comply with the presidential orders could place additional restrictions on the activity, what impact the court ruling will have, if any, on snowmobiling in the Lake Tahoe Basin is unclear. Cheva Heck, spokeswoman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said she couldn't comment on the lawsuit specifically.
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has long regulated snowmobile use. Currently, 53 percent of the basin is open to snowmobiling and 47 percent is closed, Heck said.
The final environmental document for LTBMU's Forest Plan is expected to be released in the next several months, Heck said. The plan is the guiding document for all activities on national forest land in the basin. The agency has received about 18,000 comments on the plan, Heck said. Additional public review of the document will follow its release.
Last month's court decision is still being reviewed, according to the Idaho State Snowmobile Association. The group said it was disappointed in the court decision in a statement.
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