Attack on Snowmobiling
Island Park News January 12, 2012 issue
Another public lands issue has surfaced. It’s against snowmobile access in national forests, and it’s not going to go away until anti-snowmobiling environmentalists have their day in court.
When the Fund for Animals filed its first lawsuit against snowmobiling in Yellowstone Park 20 years ago, many locals scoffed at the idea of an East coast group having enough power to change how a national park is managed. How wrong they were. The Fund attracted many more anti snowmobiling groups to its cause and the resulting limitations on snowmobiles have crippled winter business and recreation opportunities in Yellowstone’s gateway communities.
When it became clear that the Fund and its supporters were succeeding, they said national forests would be their next target.
The first lawsuits demanding a Yellowstone snowmobiling ban had nothing to do with emissions from the machines or noise snowmobiles make in wild places. The early suits targeted groomed trails undefined specifically Yellowstone’s trail grooming program that made it easy for bison to leave the park and then be killed during the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks sanctioned hunt.
The national media printed graphic, bloody photos of Yellowstone bison killed by hunters, the public was outraged, and animal rights groups were able to get the hunt stopped for many years.
The anti snowmobiling groups continued to focus on groomed trails, saying when bison leave Yellowstone on the trails, grizzly bears have less to eat in the spring, since bison weakened by Yellowstone’s harsh winters are an essential food source for bears.
Emission and noise were then added to the reasons environmentalists think snowmobiles should be banned from Yellowstone, largely because other groups had succeeded in getting motorboats and jet skis banned from California waterways because of emissions and noise.
The current Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) lawsuit, detailed in last week’s paper, charges that national forests have been negligent in not specifically addressing snowmobiling’s impact on quietude, air quality, and natural resources when the forests developed their travel plans. WWA, which claims 90 supporting groups, wants all forest where snowmobiling exists to redo their plans so snowmobiling is restricted and areas are set aside for nonmotorized winter recreation.
If the court agrees that the plans should address snowmobiling, the anti snowmobile groups will demand that the plans address impacts on quietude, wildlife, fish, insects, plants, soil, and air and water quality.
Trying to soften what this could mean to snowmobile access, in a DealerNews.com article last year, WWA’s executive director, Mark Menlove, is quoted as saying he does not want snowmobiles completely banned from the forest, and he even asserts that he has spent time on a snowmobile. His says WWA wants areas set aside for non-motorized winter recreation, just like there are snowmobile play areas.
People who believe in multiple use of and equitable access to public lands should pay attention to this issue. Snowmobiling will almost certainly be restricted in our national forests, although it will be hard if not impossible to cite many negative impacts snowmobiles have on natural resources undefined especially wildlife like bears and wolves, which are abundant in many national forests these days.
The result could be an increase is non-motorized winter tourism, but it will be slow in coming, if West Yellowstone is an example. It will most certainly have an immediate and far-reaching negative impact on the snowmobiling industry’s contributions to the local economy.