Friday, August 12, 2011

Snowmobiles or Human Powered Winter Recreation - What do you want to see?

On Friday, August 5th, the Wenatchee World ran an editorial about snowmobiles in the National Forests.  The editorial was written by Robert Mullins and Gus Bekker, both of the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition.  It has been reprinted here with their permission.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, an area east of the Cascade Crest in Washington State, is considering a revision to the current forest service operating plan.  Those in favor of motorized winter use have a powerful voice.  It's time for us who love the quiet of the mountains to make our voices heard as well:

Will it be Snowmobile National Forest, or expanded wilderness? What is the reasonable middle ground? The short answer is, please, U.S. Forest Service, manage the winter forest for multiple recreational uses, in some reasonable balance, in consideration of the impacts to nature, and for all of the public owners of the forest.

We are asking that the local Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest managers designate significant areas for non-motorized winter recreation — an activity of the majority of off-highway winter forest users. We ask also for reasonable management of the single dominant use — snowmobiles, by a relative few in the general public. The accessible areas set aside currently for winter non-motorized use are pitifully small. Most wilderness is inaccessible in winter to most people, although snowmobile riding allows access in some examples.

Skiers, snowshoers, winter campers, dog sledders, skijorers, climbers, runners, even snowmobile-assisted ski tourers, seek pristine, safe, snow-covered areas for quiet recreation. The challenge is to find quiet and pristine accessible areas away from the current typical situation of rutted, offroad, snowmobile speedways. USFS Wenatchee Forest management dates back to the days when snowmobiles were ridden almost entirely on roads.

The recent advancements of snowmobile technology and horsepower have allowed for the exponential expansion of offroad snowmobile riding in the winter forest. Areas normally ridden now include to the high summits of 5,000-plus feet to 7,000-foot peaks of the Wenatchee Mountains crest, from Mission Ridge to Ingalls Lake, and also across the wilderness boundary deep into the Alpine Lakes. To contrast, in summer, we all expect that when hiking a forest trail we will not see or hear loud, intrusive, motorized vehicles riding all over the offroad areas of the forest, and close to us as we hike (exception are trails legal for motorcycles or ATVs). Why, we ask, has USFS allowed the current snowmobile free-for-all to evolve on the winter forest?

Snowmobile riding is great recreation. However, that activity must be managed as are other uses. Cars, trucks, Jeeps, motorcycles, mountain bikes, motor boats, horses, and even camping and hiking — all are managed in regard to where and how they are used on the forest. There has been little or no USFS consideration, planning, NEPA process, EIS, request for public input, not even a formal designation for snowmobile recreation for these currently used extensive areas of the pristine, unroaded Wenatchee Mountains. While snowmobile riding is a reasonable and legitimate activity, it is an activity on the forest that excludes the safe or reasonable quiet pedestrian use of the same terrain.

We ask for public input to Forest Service. We ask that winter non-motorized forest users describe how and where they recreate, and also share their thoughts about this issue and this need with the Forest Supervisor and the Forest Plan Revision Team. Contact Forest Supervisor Rebecca Heath and the Forest Plan Revision Team: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane, Wenatchee, WA 98801,

Robert Mullins, Leavenworth, and Gus Bekker, Wenatchee, represent the Wenatchee Mountains Coalition.

Robert can be reached at

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