The Shoshone National Forest has published a revised Proposed Action outlining its vision for winter travel management on the forest. When finalized, this plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the Shoshone, especially on Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.
We now have until December 10, 2017, to provide comments to influence the plan as it takes shape. Your comments matter (even if you commented last year, it’s important to weigh in again).
The Shoshone National Forest bills itself as a wild backcountry forest, and indeed there are some amazing adventures to be had deep in the Wind River, Absaroka, and Beartooth mountains. What’s at stake in this travel plan, however, and where most skiers go, is the Shoshone’s relatively accessible world-class front-country terrain. Specifically Togwotee Pass and the Beartooth Pass.
The current Proposed Action —revised from the Proposed Action of May 2016—was developed based on suggestions the Forest Service received from the public as well as from groups like Winter Wildlands Alliance, Togwotee Backcountry Alliance, and the Wyoming Wilderness Association. This revised Proposed Action doesn’t change much from how snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles (OSVs) are currently managed on the forest, and for the most part we’re pretty supportive of what the Forest Service is proposing. You can review the latest plan, and look at maps of what the Forest Service is proposing here.
Discrete Motorized Season
For the first time ever, the Shoshone is considering a set season for winter motorized use. We like that they’re proposing specific dates before and after which snowmobile use would not be allowed, but the current proposal is confusing — there are different season dates for each ranger district and even different dates within ranger districts. We suggest they simplify things with a single season: December 1 through April 30, with a slight extension to allow snowmobile use on the Beartooth Pass until May 15.
Implementing these season dates would reduce conflicts between over-snow vehicles and wildlife and is a balanced way for skiers and snowmobilers to share the Beartooth Pass while recognizing that the two user groups have traditionally used this area during different and distinct seasons. These season dates also bring the Shoshone in line with how it’s neighbor, the Bridger-Teton, manages winter use on Togwotee Pass.
Protection for Cross-Country Skiing on Togwotee Pass
We are pleased to see that the Shoshone is proposing to formally close the cross-country ski trails on Togwotee Pass to motorized use (excepting for grooming purposes). The local trails group in Dubois — DART — spends a lot of resources grooming these trails for skiing and their efforts can be completely undermined by just one or two irresponsible OSV users. By closing, and signing, these areas cross-country skiers on Togwotee Pass will finally have non-motorized trails to enjoy.
Compliance With OSV Rule and Wilderness Act
In general, we think the Shoshone needs to do more to comply with the OSV Rule. The OSV Rule requires that the Forest Service designate discrete areas for OSV use, located to minimize impacts on wildlife and the environment and in areas that won’t cause conflict with other uses. Right now we’re not so sure the areas they’re proposing to designate really will minimize impacts and we expect them to explain how they’ve complied with this requirement when they write an Environmental Impact Statement.
We are especially concerned that the Shoshone has proposed to designate the entire High Lakes Wilderness Study Area (WSA) open for OSV use. This violates the Wyoming Wilderness Act, which states that snowmobile use in the WSA is only permissible if it’s at the same “manner and extent” as occurred in 1984. Unfortunately nobody thought to collect any baseline data showing how many people were snowmobiling in the WSA in the early ’80’s or where they were going, so we have to give it our best guess. While it’s pretty hard to guess how many snowmobiles were up there in the 80’s, we are confident that the machines people were riding then weren’t as powerful as what they’re riding today and therefore people weren’t traveling very far into the WSA. Therefore, we think the Forest Service should limit where snowmobiles can go within the WSA, restricting them to areas near the designated trail network (where it seems most likely people were riding in the past). After all, until Congress changes the status of the WSA the Forest Service is legally bound to comply with the existing law.