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.
Keep it wild. Keep mountain bikes, e-bikes, dirt bikes, ATVs on designated roads. Unfortunately, poaching new roads or trails is a common problem, and the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to manage and enforce this. Restrict backcountry trails to foot and horse-back. Don’t spoil quiet enjoyment and the wildlife habitat. Be mindful of wildlife winter range, be mindful of calving, fawning, and wildlife birthing areas. There is an old Indian proverb, “in spring time, tread lightly, mother earth is pregnant”. In my mind, “Conservation” relates to how fast you spend it, while “Preservation” means you leave it like you found it.
There should be no ICE vehicles allowed by ANYONE. Electric vehicles only! And even these should be more strictly limited than current allowances..and strictly monitored for damage control. No hunting allowed anywhere under any circumstances. Polluters/litterers should be fined a minimum of $10,000 and put 20 years in jail. The same goes for any poachers or trespassers.
Lawrence, this is tailored towards the forest’s Travel Management Plan, which does not address many of the things you mention in your comment. Also, putting an end to hunting on USFS land is pretty much a non-starter around here. Nobody, including the WGFD who manage wildlife populations, is going to advocate for that, for a whole number of biological, economic, and social reasons.
I hope that this little notice from Angus Thuermer is just a first cut in presenting the complexity of the issues surrounding the Shoshone National Forest Travel Management Plan. In any case, it is misleading to frame conflict over the plan proposals as one of various special interest users squabbling over access. There is squabbling, to be sure, but the squabblers and the Forest largely ignore what the real issue is: protection of Forest resources from overuse and environmental damage–currently, serious damage from motor vehicles in almost every watershed. That is, the issue is conservation. Everything else is secondary.
The current state of roads and trails in the front country of the Forest is deplorable. Here in the Wind River District (Dubois), roads and trails are potholed and rutted, road beds are worn down to bare rock, and culverts are exposed due to heavy traffic. This is true of all the 500 numbered roads on the district. Dust pollution has increased. Illegally created trails abound wherever there are meadows, bogs, and the smallest openings through the trees. The roads have always been in poor shape, but with the explosion of UTV/ATV traffic on the Forest over the last four years, beginning with the Solar Eclipse of 2017 and worsened since then as tourists headed to the woods to escape covid, the roads have become even worse. It has become common to see convoys of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and even 10 UTVs rip-roaring along the roads. This is unprecedented.
Even the Forest admits there is a $25 million backlog of deferred maintenance. Despite all this, the Forest has been determined to open up more of the Forest to UTV/ATV traffic. How is this sustainable?
Some of us who are conservationists first and users second have asked the Forest to rethink the process and start over to produce an Environmental Impact Statement that analyzes the various proposals in ground-specific detail and chooses a thoughtful, careful approach to Forest access. We have also offered to help the Forest create a conservation strategy for travel management that focuses on establishing a well-maintained, well-monitored, and well-regulated road system that ensures the well-being of the Forest as well as human users. That’s an offer the Forest should accept.
It seems to me the State of Wyoming agency who issues permits for motorized recreation on Federal and State owned land, needs to invest more of the permit fee’s into maintenance on existing routes.