Jackson Hole, WY
The Forest Service has agreed with a coalition of conservation groups that environmental studies must be completed before more snowmobile permits are issued on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming. This settles a portion of litigation conservationists filed against Forest Service decisions to issue five-year permits to commercial snowmobile outfitters.
The agreement states that the Forest Service will prepare an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement for commercial snowmobile use in the Gros Ventre and Granite Creek areas unless there is a change in agency guidance on the issue. The agency will also reconsider whether it must undertake new environmental studies before approving commercial snowmobile use on the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail.
“Off-road vehicles, including snow machines, have become faster and more powerful and now reach areas that previously were natural wildlife havens only a short time ago,” said Scott Groene of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “There is increasing concern that motorized recreational use on the Bridger-Teton National Forest is escalating out of control.”
“This agreement addresses our concerns that the Forest Service was ignoring the harm that snowmobile use may cause to wildlife such as Canadian lynx and wintering big game animals,” said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso, who is representing the groups. “However, while the settlement requires the agency to reconsider these issues, we will continue to press the Forest Service to honor the special trust that comes with hosting such spectacular wildlife.”
The agreement stems from a complaint filed in a Wyoming federal court by the conservation groups on January 29, 2002. The Forest Service already settled part of the case by closing critical wildlife areas to helicopter skiing during the current winter season. The portion of the litigation which challenged the Forest Service’s authorization of helicopter skiing in the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests, including within the Pallisades Wilderness Study Area, is still pending.
The Forest Service failed to examine how wildlife might be impacted by the cumulative impacts of snow machine use that has been increasing on the Continental Divide Trail since the original permits were issued a decade ago. Further, the Forest Service renewed permits for snow machine use in the Gros Ventre and Granite Creek areas without ever conducting the environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.
“The Bridger-Teton National Forest is a remarkable place that should be managed to protect the extraordinary range of species found there,” said Pam Lichtman of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “This agreement moves the Forest Service toward honoring the special trust that comes with hosting such spectacular wildlife.”
Kelly Matheson, with the Wyoming Outdoor Council added, “We’ll continue to work with the Forest Service to ensure that these public lands are managed in the best interest of all citizens by protecting the wilderness and wildlife.”