Release: US Forest Service releases new snowmobiling rule

The U.S. Forest Service has released the final policy rule for managing snowmobile and other “over-snow” vehicle use on national forests and grasslands. As directed by court order, the policy requires that roads, trails and areas where over-snow vehicle (OSV) use can occur be specifically designated by local Forest Service managers. Previously, managers had the discretion to decide whether to designate specific areas for over-snow vehicle use on National Forest System lands.

In the new rule, an over-snow vehicle is defined as “a motor vehicle that is designed for use over snow and that runs on a track and/or a ski or skis, while in use over snow”.

“The Forest Service always seeks to provide a wide range of motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunities,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This policy maintains community input and local decision-making so that those with knowledge of local areas can decide how to best balance natural resource issues with legitimate recreational uses of national forest land.”

The new rule was the result of a 2013 federal court decision that the existing travel management rule violated the Executive Order governing off-road vehicle use on federal lands in giving the agency the discretion to determine whether to regulate over-snow vehicle use. The court ordered the Forest Service to issue a new rule consistent with the Executive Order.

While this is a significant change for western states with expansive open areas where over-snow vehicle trails and areas are not specifically designated, it will have little if any impact on how snowmobile opportunities on the Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) are currently managed. The GMNF has a designated snowmobile/OSV trail system which the public can continue to use and which they will continue to refine. At this time the public may continue to ride on all trails posted as open to snowmobiles on the National Forest.

The GMNF Land & Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) is fully consistent with the new rule and states that motorized vehicles shall not be allowed off NFS roads and trails and that motorized trail vehicles shall be allowed only on NFS roads and trails which are designated for that use. In addition, a Forest Supervisor order issued in April, 2010 prohibited operating OSVs off NFS roads except on trails designed for that use.

“We do not anticipate the need for any change in our Forest Plan nor in the way we currently manage the existing designated trail system”, said Acting Forest Supervisor, Dee Hines.

The GMNF does not currently have a comprehensive map of OSV designated trails available to the public and plans to produce one as soon as practicable.

Several uses are exempted in the new rule including: limited administrative use by the Forest Service; use of fire, military, emergency, or law enforcement vehicle for emergency purposes; law enforcement response to violations of law, including pursuit; over-snow vehicle use that is specifically authorized under a written authorization issued under Federal law or regulations; and use of a road or trail that is authorized by a legally documented right-of-way held by a State, county or other local public road authority.

The new rule will preserve existing decisions governing over-snow vehicle use that were made under previous authorities with public involvement; allow decisions for over-snow vehicle use to be made independently or in conjunction with decisions for other types of motor vehicle use; and require local units to create over-snow vehicle use maps separate from use maps for other kinds of motor vehicles.

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