Federal Judge Tells USFS It Must Manage Snowmobile Travel on National Forests

This is a guest post from regular commenter John Persell. -mk

Here’s the link to the Oregonian story: “Federal judge in Idaho agrees with skiers, says snowmobile excemption is arbitrary.”

The meat of the court’s decision is in the last several pages, but the intro provides good background on how travel management came about on public lands.

This is a very satisfying victory for many who have advocated for management of snowmobiles and motorized travel in general on national forests, and is the result of great work by Advocates for the West on behalf of the Winter Wildlands Alliance.  It is not clear yet whether the Forest Service will appeal to the 9th Circuit or comply with the 180-day timeframe ordered by the judge.

The judge’s straightforward decision highlights some truly head-scratching plain language twists the Forest Service attempted to use.  The case also raises questions as to why the current administration chooses to defend some of the previous administration’s actions (as here) but not others (the 2008 NFMA planning rule).

4 thoughts on “Federal Judge Tells USFS It Must Manage Snowmobile Travel on National Forests”

  1. What is it a 180 day timeframe for?

    and maybe the answer is that this administration agrees with some of the previous administration’s actions, but not all 😉

    • 180 days for the Forest Service to issue a new rule re: snowmobile travel management that complies with the Executive Order 11644 (near the end of the included court decision). I’m interested in how the Forest Service / Department of Justice decides which actions of a previous administration are worth defending and which are not. I don’t have personal insights into that matter, but it strikes me as curious. The Forest Service’s interpretation of Executive Order 11644 set forth in this case seemed particularly weak from a plain language standpoint, yet the current Department of Justice chose to defend it.

      • Thanks, John- that doesn’t seem like a lot of time given that it took the FS a year to get out an objections rule the content of which was pretty much described by Congress.

        I agree with your read of the Executive Order. I didn’t know that EO’s were all legally required. Given the nature of some of them, that’s kind of scary. Is that a precedent?

        If I had to guess, I would say the agency did not want to start another planning process before they got done with the other (travel management) one and ensuing litigation. Still, pragmatism does not always filter its way up to higher decision levels, so it is a mystery to me too.

        Does anyone else on the blog have any insights or hypotheses?

  2. President Nixon invoked “the purpose and policy of the National Environmental Policy Act” upon issuing Executive Order 11644 and his constitutional authority as President, but I doubt any court would find the Executive Order incompatible with the Organic Act, MUSYA, or NFMA. No president has revoked the Executive Order, only amended it (President Carter), and Congress has never enacted legislation to overturn it. Therefore, the court treats it as legally binding.


    This litigation probably could have been avoided if the Forest Service had acknowledged it was required to develop snowmobile travel management plans and accepted the petition to amend the 2005 Travel Management Rule, but was completing “wheeled” motorized travel management plans first. Instead, though, the Forest Service still said it could manage snowmobiles at some point, but didn’t have to, just because it said so.


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