California Snowmobile Lawsuit

From the Redding Record-Searchlight here.

For the time being, north state snowmobilers won’t have to worry about the U.S. Forest Service limiting where they can ride, even as a lawsuit challenging the recreational activity makes it way through federal court.

On Nov. 3, the Snowlands Network, Winter Wildlands Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity filed a civil suit in federal court challenging whether the U.S. Forest Service has adequately studied the potential harms snowmobiling causes California’s forests. The groups allege snowmobiles are sources of toxic emissions, water and noise pollution, they disturb winter animals and damage snow-covered foliage. The suit also alleges snowmobiles are a nuisance for those who enjoy winter “nonmotorized recreation” like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The suit notes several members of the environmental groups are among those “seeking quiet recreation.”

“Due to the adverse impacts of snowmobiles, other governmental agencies that have extensively studied snowmobile impacts — such as Yellowstone National Park — have imposed restrictions on the types and number of snowmobiles allowed, and severely limited the areas in which they may be used,” according to the groups’ complaint. “The Forest Service has not taken comparable action.”

John Heil, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, said Monday forest administrators won’t make any changes to how snowmobile riders access or use public lands while the suit is pending.

He declined to talk about the suit, saying the Forest Service doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

The suit was condemned by at least one local snowmobile rider, Sylvia Milligan, the former north region director of California-Nevada Snowmobile Association. The Anderson woman called the suit “frivolous.”

Milligan also is chairwoman of the Recreation Outdoor Coalition, a group that had challenged potential restrictions to off-highway vehicles on federal forest land.

She said snowmobile riders are a responsible group who ride machines that have limits on how much noise they can make and the amount of emissions they release. She said the state recently performed its own environmental reviews and found no problems.

“They couldn’t sue against it (the state),” Milligan said. “Now, they’re trying to sue the Forest Service.”

Milligan notes her fellow riders have tried to foster positive relationships with snowshoers and skiers, many of whom enjoy trekking on the groomed snowmobile trails and the ungroomed paths the snowmobiles pack down.

“We try so hard to get along with these folks,” she said.

There are 260 miles of groomed and ungroomed snowmobile trails on three national forests near Mt. Shasta. The primary access point for snowmobilers in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is on the Pilgrim Creek Road outside of McCloud.

The suit says there are more than 1,700 miles of groomed snowmobile trails on California’s national forests, providing snowmobile riders access to more than 8.3 million acres, a vastly larger amount than that given other nonmotorized recreation, where only 162 miles of trails are maintained for skiing and snowshoeing.

Here’s a link to the lawsuit.

My comment: it’s interesting that some have argued that non-recreation uses of the land interfere with recreation and the economic and social benefits of recreation. A brief look around on the internet suggests that snowmobiling is a positive tourism economic benefit to communities, and an activity that families enjoy outdoors (aka “kids in the woods”). My view is always that a more productive dialogue would be “I think you should manage snowmobiles differently in these specific cases for these specific reasons” rather than “you need to do more NEPA.” Just sayin’

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