Rules change for snowmobiles in National Forests

CALUMET – If you enjoy snowmobiling on state forest lands, a new regulation may mean a change in your route.

According to the Jan. 28 release of the Federal Register, designation for roads, trails and areas on National Forest Service lands is required to provide over-snow vehicle use, in a ruling effective Feb. 27. According to the ruling, over-snow vehicle use was formerly managed as a discretionary activity.

“The Forest Service has revised the rules for over-snow vehicles, and eventually every National Forest (and) Grassland in the country that has snowmobiling will have to put out a map showing where people can legally ride,” Leon LaVigne, Recreation Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Eastern Region office in Milwaukee, said.

Though some forests have already gone through the process, the regulation will mean changes for others.

“In the past, the state snowmobile clubs would work with their local clubs, and they would put out a map of the trails and the Forest Service would use those maps to show people where they can ride,” LaVigne said. “That is not a legal instrument for the Forest Service, so the Forest Service will put out a map showing where people can ride, and with that map, that will be the legal instrument that will be enforceable for Forest Service regulations.”

LaVigne said maps for the Eastern Region haven’t come out yet, as implementation guidelines are pending. However, when maps are available, he said the information will be available online on the forest website, and for free at the forest district supervisor’s office.

Locally, this regulation won’t change much, according to officials at the Hiawatha and Ottawa National Forests. Lisa Klaus, Public Affairs Officer for the Ottawa National Forest, said areas where snowmobiles are allowed are already defined by the park, and therefore the ruling does not require them to make changes.

“Snowmobiles have been good about being where they need to be,” Klaus said.

Similarly, no action is required for the Hiawatha National Forest, because their existing plan also includes snowmobile use.

“The new rule, which requires each Forest to include over-snow vehicles in their management plans, does not create a need for action on the Hiawatha because our existing Forest Plan already addresses over-snow use,” Janel Crooks, public affairs officer for the Hiawatha National Forest, said. “Specifically, the Hiawatha’s 2006 Forest Plan states that ‘Cross country snowmobile use is generally allowed within motorized ROS (Recreation Opportunity Spectrum) classes.'”

For forests that do require changes, LaVigne said the process of creating a map will be “a dynamic process,” which may require input from the public.

“Many forests are going to have public meetings to find out where people are riding, where they need to keep riding, if it’s not on an existing map,” LaVigne said. “A lot of the stuff for the snowmobiles on the lakes for ice fishing, that’s not on the map. So that’ll be something the forests will have to look at.”

The map will be required to be updated yearly to account for corrections and additions, LaVigne said.

“After (the changes) go through NEPA, National Environmental Policy Act, analysis, then they will add those to the map,” LaVigne said. “That also requires public process – scoping, we call it – contacting the public, finding out what their needs, concerns are. And this is not just the snowmobiling public – this will be anyone that’s interested, shows an interest, and we have people that regularly want to receive all of our announcements for environmental policy changes or NEPA documents, so we involve everyone.”

Because the forests span the nation, LaVigne said anyone can comment and voice their concerns, regardless of where they’re located.

To find out more about proposals, LaVigne recommended contacting a National Forest near them, or visiting the forest’s website.

“We do listen to everyone, and we take their comments seriously,” LaVigne said.

To view a PDF copy of the ruling, with public comments and response, visit federalregister.gov/a/2015-01573.