White River forest made model for snowmobile rule | PostIndependent.com

White River forest made model for snowmobile rule

The U.S. Forest Service is being forced to follow an example of good public lands management established in the White River National Forest surrounding Aspen and Glenwood Springs.

The Forest Service agreed, as part of a settlement of litigation, to require all national forests to establish where snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles can travel and make it clear to the public.

Previously, managers had the discretion whether to designate specific areas for snowmobile use. The change was spurred by a lawsuit by environmental groups that said the federal agency illegally exempted snowmobiles from its 2005 Travel Management rule for national forests. The group Winter Wildlands Alliance received a ruling in its favor from a federal district court in 2013. The Forest Service has been working on its plan since then. The final plan was unveiled last week.

Winter Wildlands Alliance said in a statement the group’s goal was to force forest managers to sit with snowmobiles, cross-country skiers and other winter forest users to hammer out plans on where motorized use was appropriate and where it should be banned.

“It doesn’t apply to our forest because we already addressed that in our Travel Management Plan,” said Bill Kight, spokesman for the White River Forest Supervisor’s Office. “We’re not affected by that ruling.”

The White River National Forest staff undertook an extensive travel management process that concluded in 2012. It defined where motorized travel was allowed and prohibited on scores of road, trails and areas within the 2.3-million-acre forest, which stretches from south of Aspen to north of Glenwood Springs and from the Rifle area to Summit County.

Winter Wildlands Alliance Executive Director Mark Menlove credited the White River’s work.

“That’s exactly the process we would like to see other forests undertake,” Menlove said. “They did it at their discretion.”

All routes open to snowmobiles aren’t necessarily marked with signs, Kight said. Forest users have the responsibility to check detailed maps produced after the Travel Management Plan to assess if routes they want to use are open.

The new rule becomes law in late February. Forests that haven’t adhered to the rule already will be forced to establish over-snow travel rules.

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