The Shoshone National Forest has published online 7,809 comments it received on a plan to expand ATV routes, allow off-trail snowmobiling across 521,038 acres, close some roads and trails and make other changes to its travel regulations.
The national forest, which stretches from the Montana border to the southern end of the Wind River Range, released comments on both its 2020 preliminary environmental assessment and the proposed final version that was published earlier this year. The agency published the comments after receiving requests for access to them, including a Freedom of Information Act request from WyoFile.
Why it matters
The nation’s first national forest, the Shoshone covers 2.4 million acres across five counties. The 474-page analysis recognizes that non-motorized backcountry recreation is “the majority of use” on the Shoshone and that 55% of the land is protected as non-motorized wilderness. Roughly 17% of the forest is open for roads and motorized trails, the agency said. Road and motorized trail corridors provide “limited but vital access to what are otherwise substantively inaccessible places,” the agency said.
The plan would govern use of roads and trails, snowmobiling, ATV use and backcountry roads for decades.
The national forest has been working on its travel plan for about six years. When administrators conclude work on the assessment, they will either adopt the agency’s plan or determine that the issue should undergo more extensive scrutiny in an environmental impact statement.
In the two rounds of public comment, which ended earlier this fall, the agency received thousands of form letters, which it largely disregards.
Among the controversies are how much snowmobiling should be allowed and when, particularly in northern parts of the forest near and in a wilderness study area. The east side of Togwotee Pass near Dubois is another flashpoint where wildlife, equestrians, other non-motorized users, ATV riders and snowmobilers all seek a share of the landscape.
Who said what
The Shoshone plan would allow four-wheeled motorized access to 707 miles of roads. It would allow the snowmobile season on the north end of the forest to last until June 15.
That date is “reasonable and acceptable” and supported by snow measurements, Sheryl Cimenti, a Dubois resident wrote the Forest Service. Others had less enthusiasm for the agency’s plan.
“Though it is only 4% more total roading, I don’t think any new roads/trails should be constructed until there is some proof or evidence that the [agency] can responsibly manage what is on the ground now,” wrote Leslie Petersen, who used to work with outfitters in the Dubois area.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department wrote detailed comments on specific areas, including in the Cottonwood/Gooseberry creek drainages, saying “there may already be too many [off-highway vehicles] in this area, and … elk are being displaced as a result.”
The Winter Wildlands Alliance and others called on the forest to comply with the Wyoming Wilderness Act governing the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area near Beartooth Pass and asked for no new motorized routes given the national forest’s “stated inability to enforce regulations.”
This story has been corrected to properly reflect that the plan does not address mountain biking — Ed.