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Proposed rule could expand snowmobile use in national forests

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is proposing new snowmobile rules that may increase their use in national forests. USFS is inviting public comment on its proposed new Use by Oversnow Vehicles Travel Management Rule. USFS announced the proposed rules in the Federal Register of Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

USFS is planning to amend its rules to designate on which roads, trails and areas such vehicles can be used, restricted or banned. Forest managers would be allowed to set up a system of routes and areas. They could choose to allow vehicle use unless prohibited, or in reverse, declare use prohibited unless specifically allowed. USFS is acting in response to a court order of last year. In other words, forest operators could write maps either saying people can use snowmobiles only in these areas, or they can ride anywhere except specific areas.

You can send comments on the proposed rule by Aug. 4. You can file electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to USFS; Attn: Joseph Adamson; Recreation, Heritage & Volunteer Resources Staff, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Stop 1125, Washington, DC 20250-1125. USFS asks that you choose one method, not send duplicates. If you have questions, contact Adamson at (202) 205-0931,

USFS noted that the use of off-road vehicles increased 153 percent between 1982 and 2009. So it wrote its Travel Management Rule in 2005. The rule requires local managers to designate routes that allow them in national forests. Such use is prohibited in other parts of the forests, unless exempted. The areas must be displayed at local distinct offices.

But snowmobiles impact the environment differently than other off-road vehicles and sometimes have to travel off-route. The ground changes when covered with snow. So the over-snow vehicles don't directly ride on the land when the ground is covered with enough snow and vehicles are properly operated. So allowing them to ride in some areas may be appropriate when it wouldn't be for other off-road vehicles.