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USFS seeks input on new snowmobile regs

Staff Writer

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced Friday that it is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to the Travel Management Rule that would directly impact over-snow vehicle use, such as the use of snowmobiles.

The Travel Management Rule was created to help ensure a long-term, sustainable use future for motor vehicles traveling in national forests and grasslands. The rule mandated “the creation of a system of routes and areas where motor vehicles are allowed.”

However, the rule left the regulation of over-snow vehicle use up to the discretion of “the responsible agency official,” in part due to the recognition that terrain, snowfall, snowpack, recreational activities and transportation needs vary drastically between forest service districts.

The USFS press release about the pending changes states, “In 2013 a federal court ruled that the agency violated Executive Order 11644, ‘Use of off-road vehicles on public lands,’ by allowing such discretion. The court held that the Forest Service must regulate over-snow use, but does have the discretion to determine where and when over-snow use can occur on agency lands. The judge ordered the Forest Service to issue a new rule by Sept. 9, 2014.”

As of June 13, the agency provided the following information about proposed changes to the rule.

It would require the designation of a system of roads, trails, and areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed, restricted or prohibited. The changes would also alter the current definition of “area” — expanding designations to encompass larger areas than those anticipated for other motor vehicle use.

The USFS is also taking into consideration potential environmental damage. It recognizes that, as long as there is adequate snow cover, over-snow vehicles do not generally create permanent trails.

However, the agency adds, “in addition to adequate snow cover, the Forest Service must consider other factors, including impacts to winter wildlife, the soundscape and air quality.”

Further questions and answers about proposed changes to the rule can be found at www.fs.fed.us/publications/over-snow-vehicle-faqs.pdf. The USDA website also offers more information about the proposal. The public will have 45 days from the date of publication of the Federal Register on June 18 to comment on the revisions.

shanti.johnson@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on June 19, 2014.