Last year, after exhausting all other avenues, we filed a lawsuit challenging over-snow vehicle use maps on 3 National Forests – the Boise, Payette, and Bridger-Teton. Today, we’re pleased to report that we’ve dismissed the challenge because the Forest Service recognized that these maps don’t comply with the OSV Rule and withdrew them.
Winter travel planning is a big deal for Winter Wildlands Alliance. The Over-Snow Vehicle Rule is a hard-won regulation that came about after a decade of advocacy work and we’re committed to seeing it properly implemented. This means that the majority of National Forests that get snow will need to go through winter travel planning. Any forest that wants to roll existing designations into an official winter travel plan — through a so-called “grandfathering provision” — can only do so if they can show that those designations comply with the OSV Rule.
The grandfathering of existing designations is a bit tricky, and could possibly be interpreted as a loophole big enough to drive a snowcat through. The provision isn’t meant to allow forests to codify the status quo and call it good. It’s intended to help make winter travel planning efficient by allowing decisions that already comply with the OSV Rule to be rolled into new plans.
However, faced with a shortage of resources and a desire not to stir up conflict, some forests have been tempted to circumvent winter travel planning by publishing over-snow vehicle use maps (OSVUMs) based on current management, regardless of whether or not that management complies with the OSV Rule. Publishing an OSVUM is the final step in winter travel planning, so once a forest publishes one of these maps they’re essentially closing the door on the opportunity to revisit OSV use designations or do any further planning.
Codifying the status quo without actually doing anything makes all of our past efforts to establish a protocol, process and requirements for winter travel planning moot. Which is why, when the Payette, Boise, and Bridger-Teton published OSVUMs based on outdated decisions that don’t comply with the OSV Rule, we realized we’d have to sue if we wanted to keep OSV Rule implementation on track. We don’t take litigation lightly, and prior to filing a lawsuit we approached each forest and made a case for why they should withdraw their maps and commit to doing winter travel planning instead. But they weren’t having it. So, in September 2017, we sued.
A few months ago we received notice from each forest that they’ve withdrawn their OSVUMs and will conduct winter travel planning when resources allow. Because the case is now moot, we’ve withdrawn the lawsuit. Onward and upward.
Now it’s time to talk about what comes next. The Bridger-Teton is about to embark on a forest plan revision, which is a perfect opportunity to set the stage for winter travel planning. Once the forest plan revision is completed (a process that usually takes around 5 years), we’d like to see the Bridger-Teton roll right into winter travel planning. From forest planning through travel planning, we’ll be advocating for backcountry skiers and wildland and wildlife conservation and we’re excited to help the Bridger-Teton revamp it’s management to reflect current conditions, opportunities, and challenges on the forest.
Meanwhile, over in Idaho, the time is ripe right now for the Boise and Payette to start working on winter travel plans. We understand that winter travel planning isn’t easy, but there are ways to ease the process. Right now would be a great time for these forests to convene collaboratives, or work with existing ones, to start thinking about winter travel planning and coming up with ideas and agreements that could inform the planning process and make it less resource-intensive.
Winter travel planning doesn’t have to start with the NEPA process, and now that we’re all in agreement that these forests need to do winter travel planning, we should be able to move forward with figuring out winter travel management plans that balance motorized and non-motorized snowsports and protect wildlife habitat and winter wildlands.
- Suit says winter plans don’t protect forests (Jackson Hole News & Guide)
- County: hold off on Forest Service lawsuit (Jackson Hole News & Guide)