ALERT: Forest Service update of Off-Highway Vehicle rules

SAWS Action Alert

Comments must be submitted by September 13

I received an alert for this from none other than the Winter Wildlands Alliance (

The announcement is pretty old,┬áand is posted on SAWS’ website, but because there are still a little over two weeks remaining in the comment period, it deserves our┬áimmediate attention.

As some of you know, the US Forest Service is updating their Off-Road Vehicle rules. One part of the proposal involves treating snowmobile use differently than ATV’s and motorcycles by adding a definition for snowmobiles to their travel planning process.┬á┬áThis┬áproposed change┬áhas the anti-snowmobiling groups up in arms.┬á


In January of this year, US Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth outlined four major threats to the health of our national forests.┬á They were Wildfire and Fuels, Invasive Species (noxious weeds), Loss of Open Space, and Motorized Recreation.┬á He said ÔÇ£The day(s) we can take off-highway vehicles cross-country across the national forests are over.ÔÇØ

The anti-snowmobiling groups would like nothing more than to see snowmobiles included in this policy.  But common sense says that snowmobiles by their very nature do not impact the forest in a manner even close to OHV cross-country travel when there is no snow.

Please contact the forest service and let them know that snowmobiles should have a definition added to their travel management policies.  Different points that could be made include:

  • Because snowmobiles are operated on a layer of snow, their environmental impacts are different than wheeled off-road vehicles, including erosion and spread of invasive species.
  • With the exception of winter range, there┬áis no sound┬áreasoning from a scientific standpoint that snowmobiles should be restricted to designated trails.
  • Every spring the snow melts, taking with it all evidence of prior presence of snowmobiles.

Please send your comments to the Forest Service:

Subject: Proposed Rule for Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use.

Thank you for taking the time to care about keeping open the areas we ride.

Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

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Optional Section For Your Information

The full text of the proposed rules, entitled ÔÇ£Travel Management; Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use”, is linked here:┬áand is available in PDF or HTML format.

The text┬áis really long (65 pages), so let’s just deal with how it affects snowmobiles. The section of the travel regulations that is important states:

“The proposed rule would add a definition for snowmobiles because, as explained in the description of proposed ┬º┬º212.51 and 212.81, snowmobiles would be exempted from the mandatory designations in 36 CFR 212.51 and would be addressed separately in 36 CFR 212.81. The proposed rule defines a snowmobile as a motor vehicle that is designed exclusively for use over snow and that runs on a track or tracks and/or a ski or skis. This definition would not include motor vehicles such as SUVs, ATVs, or other wheeled vehicles that can be outfitted with tracks that turn them into vehicles that can travel over snow because these vehicles are not designed exclusively for use over snow.”

“All but one of these exemptions, the exemption for snowmobiles, are found in E.O. 11644, E.O. 11989, and 36 CFR part 295. Snowmobiles would be exempted from the mandatory designation scheme because a snowmobile traveling over snow results in different and less severe impacts to natural resource values than wheeled motor vehicles traveling over the ground. Consequently, in contrast to wheeled motor vehicles, it may be appropriate for snowmobiles to travel off route.”


Here is what some of the anti-snowmobiling groups are saying.┬á I won’t post what they are saying about ATV’s, as it would take up too much space.

Tell the Forest Service to protect the places you traditionally go to enjoy peace and solitude during your visits to public lands in winter, and urge them to ensure that a final rule requires each National Forest to… “Include snowmobiles in the rulemaking and require establishment of non-motorized areas for cross-country and backcountry skiers and snowshoers.”

Snowmobiles must be included in all ATV management rules!

More information can be found at, or

Please write to the Forest Service and let them know what you think about the proposed regulations. Please consider including the following points in your letter, e-mail, fax, or web submission:

  • Snowmobiles should not have different rules than other motor vehicles because they, too, can harm the environment. The air pollution, water pollution, noise, and compaction of the snow surface are physical effects that must be regulated. Executive Order 11644, which mandated a system of designated areas and trails for off-road motor vehicle use, did not exempt snowmobiles, and neither should the Forest Service. The Forest Service should designate areas and trails for snowmobile use and prohibit them everywhere else, just like other OHVs.

Snowlands Network

Although the proposed changes are a step in the right direction, the FS must strengthen the rule if it has a hope of beginning to get a handle on this serious problem. To strengthen the rule, the Forest Service should:

  • Address the problem of unmanaged winter recreation. This proposed rule does not apply to snowmobile recreation, which, increasingly, is conflicting with cross-country skiing and potentially impacting water quality and wildlife.

Colorado Mountain Club (CMC)