In anticipation of our Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Golden, CO later this week we are excited to announce the release of our latest report, Winter Recreation on National Forest Lands, A Comprehensive Analysis of Motorized and Non-motorized Opportunity and Access.  This report covers 77 National Forests and 176 million acres of land within the forests that receive regular snowfall and confirms that bigger more powerful snowmobiles continue to dominate a disproportionate amount of forest acres and trails compared to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

This report is an update and expansion of our 2006 report on the same topic and includes 19 National Forests not covered in the earlier report.  Utilizing data gathered through Freedom of Information Act requests, the report shows that while cross-country ski and snowshoe visits outnumber snowmobile visits by nearly two-to-one with 6.9 million ski/snowshoe visits compared to 4 million snowmobile visits, only 36 percent of forest acres are protected for non-motorized activities while 53 percent of the acres are open to snowmobiles and another 11 percent unclassified. Management of groomed winter trails is even more disproportionate with 78 percent open to snowmobile use.

With the release in January of the new Over-Snow Vehicle Rule requiring each National Forest Unit with regular snowfall to write a winter travel management plan, we wanted to better understand current management across the country in order to provide meaningful input as the Agency begins to implement winter travel management.  The information in the report is presented on a forest-by-forest as well as Regional basis and examines use levels, miles of available motorized and non-motorized groomed trails, and acres open and closed to over-snow motorized use.

It’s difficult to directly compare this report with the 2006 data given the expanded scope of the current report, but in terms of percentages the gap between motorized and non-motorized opportunity appears to be narrowing. The 2006 report showed 30 percent of the National Forest acres and 10 percent of groomed trails protected for non-motorized winter activities.  Nearly all of the change in terms of more equitable opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing and other quiet winter activities came through the small number forests that voluntarily implemented winter travel plans before the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule was released.

The new Rule creates an opportunity for Forest Service managers to think proactively about how to balance all winter recreation across a forest and provide quality recreation opportunities for all users.  This new report gives those interested in backcountry and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling a baseline understanding of how National Forests manage winter recreation today in order to best prepare for planning for tomorrow.