Lynx, ©Timothy J. Catton/USFS

Help Wildlife Survive Winters in our National Forests

New rules governing over-snow vehicles in national forests need to better balance the needs of wildlife and recreation.

While it’s full-on summer across the country, it’s time to think about winter for a few minutes. Winter can really make a person feel alive – snowflakes seemingly hanging in the sun, crisp air making one aware of every breath, the feel of snow crunching beneath the feet. Enjoying the outdoors during wintertime in the backcountry lands of our national forests offers a great opportunity to take part in various snow sports, view amazing sceneries, and track the comings and goings of wildlife in the snow. It’s time for us to act to protect those opportunities and wildlife habitat in our national forests!

On June 18, the United States Forest Service released its long-awaited draft federal rule that determines how national forests decide where over-snow vehicles (OSV) such as snowmobiles are allowed to go. It’s critical that we plan where and how we travel through national forests. Before this rule, in many places there was an ‘anything goes’ approach to these kinds of decisions, giving an almost free reign to these vehicles, and making it difficult for wildlife to find quiet refuges away from areas where the vehicles are used. By designating specific trails and areas where visitors may use vehicles like snowmobiles, we have an opportunity to bring balance to the backcountry, and minimize any potential damage to the environment or to wildlife security before they occur.

Creating this rule is an important first step. Unfortunately, as it is currently written, we don’t think it will accomplish much. Thankfully, since this is a draft with a public comment period, there is time to ask the Forest Service to make some changes:

General Sherman, © Barry Klein

Snow covers Sequoia National Park (Credit: Barry Klein)

Closed Unless Designated Open
In the proposed rule, land managers can choose to either manage areas of national forests as “open unless designated closed” (the current status quo for some existing winter management) or “closed unless designated open.” The latter is how they manage all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), so it makes sense to take the same approach to over-snow vehicles. Allowing land managers to choose between two options will mean major inconsistency across seasons (OSVs in winter, ATVs in other seasons), and confusion for visitors when one national forest selects one approach to managing OSVs and the neighboring forest selects the other. An “open unless closed” policy also assumes that OSV use does not harm wildlife. Instead of making this assumption, the Forest Service should decide where OSV is compatible with wildlife conservation, and limit use to those areas. The final rule should follow the “closed unless designated open” approach.

In addition, the proposed rule allows the Forest Service to designate massive OSV cross-country use areas, and ignore the impacts of specific OSV trails within those areas. Doing this undermines wildlife conservation in many ways, including weakening the ability to protect key wildlife habitats. The final rule should be changed to reduce the scope of OSV areas to a more manageable scale and require land managers to consider the impacts of individual trails.

Scrutinize all Snowmobile Use – No Grandfather Clauses
The draft as currently proposed would grandfather-in a range of past management designations for OSVs. The draft goes too far by allowing past OSV use decisions to stand, even if they did not adequately address the impacts to wildlife, winter ecosystems, and other users.

Wolverine, © Anna Yu/iStockDated or non-comprehensive OSV plans may not adequately address wildlife concerns, or even meet legal requirements for motorized use planning. When planning for these kinds of vehicles, the Forest Service must follow a specific policy called Executive Order 11644, which requires them to minimize harassment and disruption of wildlife and their habitat. This proposed OSV rule must be consistent with this Executive Order – so the Forest Service must make sure any previous OSV management designations incorporate these “minimization requirements” before they are grandfathered in.

Canada lynx, wolverines and other sensitive wildlife species can suffer negative consequences from noisy winter recreation. The Forest Service should make sure that the final rule helps those animals better survive harsh winter conditions. We have until August 4 to let the Forest Service know that we value quiet winter landscapes for ourselves and for wildlife, and we want to see consistent management of motorized vehicles across all seasons.

Your Comments Are Needed!
Your comment is essential to help shape the future of our National Forests and will help make a difference across millions of acres of public land. By submitting comments to improve the draft rule you can show the Forest Service a better way to manage over-snow vehicles.

Submit a comment in two simple steps:

1) Use this blog to help draft a comment for the Federal Register. Add your personal experience of how you enjoy winter on National Forest lands. (This is the most important part! Personal comments are proven to have the biggest impact on decision-makers.) Add any extra concerns or comments you have.

2) Head over to the Federal Register TODAY to review the rule and submit your comments directly to the Forest Service. At the top right of the page, click on “Comment Now” and then copy and paste your letter into the comment box. If your letter is too long you can also upload it as a separate file. Comments are due by August 4, 2014.

Kylie Paul is the Rockies & Plains Representative at Defenders of Wildlife

30 Responses to “Help Wildlife Survive Winters in our National Forests”

  1. Kris Azzarello

    As someone who loves winter in national Forest lands, I would hate to see all the pristien beauty marred and possiblly destroyed by the use of snowmobiles there. It impacts wildlife adversely, too, and the noise really ruins the peaceful setting.
    Please don’t allow this to happen!

    Respectfully,

    Kris Azzarello

    Reply
  2. Lauren Devine

    Scrutinize all Snowmobile Use – No Grandfather Clauses
    The draft as currently proposed would grandfather-in a range of past management designations for OSVs. The draft goes too far by allowing past OSV use decisions to stand, even if they did not adequately address the impacts to wildlife, winter ecosystems, and other users.

    Dated or non-comprehensive OSV plans may not adequately address wildlife concerns, or even meet legal requirements for motorized use planning. When planning for these kinds of vehicles, the Forest Service must follow a specific policy called Executive Order 11644, which requires them to minimize harassment and disruption of wildlife and their habitat. This proposed OSV rule must be consistent with this Executive Order – so the Forest Service must make sure any previous OSV management designations incorporate these “minimization requirements” before they are grandfathered in.

    Canada lynx, wolverines and other sensitive wildlife species can suffer negative consequences from noisy winter recreation. The Forest Service should make sure that the final rule helps those animals better survive harsh winter conditions. We have until August 4 to let the Forest Service know that we value quiet winter landscapes for ourselves and for wildlife, and we want to see consistent management of motorized vehicles across all seasons.

    Our wildlife deserves peace in their own habitat.

    Reply
    • Alexandra

      Great comments, did you submit them through the link given?

  3. lorraine barratt

    The wild life have a very precarious road a head, they need all the help they can get! Please help with spreading the word, a donation or signing all petitions & sending emails.. They desperately need your help & your voice.

    Reply
  4. Carlos Nunes

    PLease keep our wilderness areas and animals free of human activity. Let naturedo Is thing.

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth Windham

    We sacrifice the livelihoods of wild animals for our own selfish pointless pleasures. If we keep this up, there won’t be any wild left to enjoy! Please don’t allow this kind of selfish human consumption continue!

    Reply
  6. Nancy Reyering

    Please preserve our forest lands and parks as quiet, pristine wildernesses. Protecting wildlife and habitat should be the priority of our park services, not making playgrounds for noisy vehicles that wi disturb terrain, wildlife and visitors.

    Thank you for the preservation of these world-class wilderness spaces.

    Reply
  7. Katrina

    Here’s what I posted:

    Hello! Having grown up in Southern California, going somewhere with snow was always a treat. It’s particularly wonderful to spot wildlife amongst the snowy trees when staying up at a mountain cabin or cross country skiing over a silent, white landscape. What isn’t wonderful are snowmobiles.

    When living in Seattle, I was shocked at how many snowmobiles I encountered up in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest. I couldn’t believe it was legal to be so loud and disruptive in such a pristine conservation area. It ruined several hiking and skiing experiences for me.

    Because of this and other experiences, I’m very much in favor of changing rules for winter activities to “closed unless designated open.” I also believe that ALL snowmobile use should be scrutinized, with criteria considering wildlife and habitat conservation being favored – and no grandfather clauses. The criteria should be examined and updated frequently, again with conservation as a priority.

    It’s easy to destroy habitat and cause species to go extinct. It’s not as easy – indeed, sometimes it’s impossible – to undo the damage. Please take the long view and be “pound wise”, rather than “penny wise and pound foolish”. Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will thank you.

    Reply
  8. CJ Neidlinger

    Why was snowmobiling even ever allowed??? These lands are to preserve and protect the natural beauty and wildlife. Absolutely no recreational vehicles should be allowed, ever, only park rangers when needed. Human greed and self righteousness needs to stop. Wildlife comes first, now and forever!!

    Reply
  9. Rochelle Willis

    Enough with the human footprint, national forests are no place for crazy manic snowmobilers to wreak havoc on all that is pristine and natural. Let these people find other places to go nuts as on their own property or on someone’s property they may know. Something has got to be kept sacred in this crazy world.

    Reply
  10. Roxane Rothstein

    I love to spend the winter in national Forests and my family and I have grown very concerned over the years with the pollution by noise from snowmobiles. We can’t see any wild animals anymore, these poor things, and we are ourselves stressed out by the noise. Something quite radical needs to be done about this, keep the noise in the cities and let’s make sure it stays there! Forests are the few natural habitats left to wildlife who already barely survives, introducing noise in these natural environment is extremely dangerous to their health and well-being as well as to human’s health. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. Kaylee Stebbins

    If any of these animals are at all bothered by the sound of these OSV’s, we should restrict them and all other vehicles from being on the property. There are plenty of other places that allow you to legally drive these vehicles. Please protect the wildlife now before we do any more harm.

    Reply
  12. Matt Kline

    I’ve observed first hand the effects that OSVs can have on wildlife. Animals react to these things always in a negative way. Let’s first adequately address wildlife concerns!

    Wildlife seem to always get the short end of the stick. Their voices are drowned out in the endless cacophony of humanity’s quest for fun. More and more and more recreational opportunities we are continuously told is a good thing. A good thing for businesses, a good thing for jobs. Well I do not agree with this gross over statement. Less OSVs, ATVs and CRVs, snowmobiles and jet skis, mountain bikes, and toy drones to start would be much better for our wild places! The thinking should be a little bit more balanced I think, a little more pro-life, more wolverines re-establishing themselves wherever they can! More wolves and lynx in our great and healthy? land. How about the birds that haven’t migrated from their wintry home or the rodents that would also like to roam. Healthy populations of species the priority instead of some family vacation Go-Pro recordings. Every where I go, more and more people worrying about what’s in it for them, never thinking outside the box and realizing other species are fighting for EXISTENCE. Let’s first adequately address wildlife concerns! Then let’s think about that person who wants to take a stroll through a winter landscape without the constant sound of another darn mechanical plaything… only after that should we worry about another way for us humans to have play time.

    Reply
  13. Samantha Lurey

    Dear Forest Services Representative:

    I’ve been advised you are seeking public comment on an upcoming new policy for use of over-snow vehicles on public forest land. As a member of the National Parks and outdoor enthusiast, I am eager to provide my opinion on the upcoming policy.

    Overall, I think your policy is a good first step in protecting forest land during winter months. However, I would like to suggest some changes to the draft as follows:

    - Change the designated land to be ‘Closed Unless Designated Open’ instead of open unless designated closed. I understand that there are a lot of people that want to ‘roam free’ in these public places in the winter, but your summer policy with ATV’s should be the same as your winter policy for OSV’s.
    - No Grandfather clauses: You need to ensure compliance with Executive Order 11644 with respect to your actions. Further, allowing some areas to remain under old policies or actions will create confusion for the public and an administration problem for your staff. One change in the rule and everyone moves forward with a clean slate.

    Thank you for reading my suggestions. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at: Samantha Lurey (*******@yahoo.com).

    Thank you,

    Samantha Lurey

    Reply
  14. Dick Thorpe

    I don’t think off road vehicles or even over snow vehicles should be outlawed only goverened with limited use. After all how would we lovers of nature be able to get in deep to see the beauty that is nature.. The problem is there’s always somone that abuses a rule or law…they’ll chase game, tear up shrubs, scar the landscape, cause fires…so perhaps restricted ‘permit’ passes with photo I.D and time stamps like hunting permits/tags are in order

    Reply
    • GuySweeney

      Nah, Dick you shouldn’t be lazy! Like someone suggested, hop on a horse & get with mother nature on HER terms!!!!

  15. Gary Feemster

    The only reason for a snowmobile in a national park or forest is for emergency rescue.

    Reply
  16. Ramona sahni

    Wildlife deserves concern from us.Why do we as a human race ignore every other creatures need?
    We have to coexist.Let us not be selfish forever

    Reply
  17. Christian W. Olson

    All motorized vehicles, whether electric or combustion, need to be banned from all our national parks and wildlife management areas. Take a horse or rent a horse from the park or wildlife management area. If you don’t like mother nature’s terms, keep your SISSY bottoms out of these areas. It’s that simple. YOU can’t handle what mother nature has to say or how it expresses itself, so you are the WEAK one.

    Reply
  18. Susanah

    We have encroached enough on various animals’ roaming territories. OSVs and ATVs have many other places to enjoy. Protect our wildlife!

    Reply
  19. Donna Vance

    Ban snowmobiles and four wheelers out of National Parks and Forrest’s. There’s too many selfish thoughtless two legged monsters with them. They don’t understand nor care about wildlife and wildlife should not have to suffer because of them.

    Reply
  20. Alexander Yeung

    I think banned every snowmobile and four wheeler from National park is the only way to keep the species peace and quiet. I believed forest service and ranger must be very extremely cautious of anyone try to do this.

    Reply
  21. Ryan

    Please, protect our wildlife and minimize ATV and OSV use. We, as humans, have our homes to turn to for safety and security, dont wildlife and animals deserve the same? As visitors to their home ie the outdoors, surely we should treat them and nature habitats in general with more respect?

    Reply
  22. Fred

    The public has a right to use public lands for recreation but greenie groups like your want to eliminate as much recreation especially OHV use and hunting from public lands.

    Reply
  23. P. Dyer

    Once motorized vehicles are allowed into any wild area, then it’s no longer wild.

    Reply
  24. Marcia

    I wish I had the funds to donate to every wildlife and animal rescue organization in the world. Sadly, I do not. But I heartily support the efforts of every single one of them. Trying to save the land and it’s wonderful creatures from the depravity of humans is no easy task. It costs. Thank you for all your efforts. May you be blessed.

    Reply

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