A plan to govern motorized travel on the Shoshone National Forest falls short of laws protecting a wilderness study area, a conservation group said after reviewing public comments.
The Wyoming Wilderness Association said the proposed travel plan adds significant new motorized routes and trails while ignoring illegal motorized use. The conservation group analyzed hundreds of comments after the national forest made them public last year. The national forest released the comments after requests, including a records request under the Freedom of Information Act from WyoFile.
The national forest proposes to expand ATV routes, allow off-trail snowmobiling across 521,038 acres and make other changes to its travel regulations. Officials, who have studied the issue for seven years, are evaluating whether to adopt the current plan or pursue a more in-depth environmental impact statement.
Who said what
“The proposal adds four new large motorized loops on the Wind River District, the area of the forest with the most documented enforcement and maintenance issues,” the WWA said in a review of comments. “The new summer motorized trails would bisect Inventoried Roadless Areas, a Wild and Scenic eligible River, and crucial wildlife habitat bordering the Fitzpatrick Wilderness.”
The proposed plan “grossly extends” the snowmobiling season to June 15, the group said, and fails to protect the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area near the Montana border as required by law. The plan was “crafted with the goal of accommodating a minority of motorized interests,” the WWA wrote.
Snowmobile advocates want the wilderness area kept open to snowmobiling and have advocated for motorized access in additional areas.
Why it matters
Adoption of the plan will establish a system of designated roads, trails, and areas for public motorized use, the Shoshone Forest said. The agency undertook the planning effort as motorized travel by ATVs and snowmobiles has increased, in some cases resulting in the creation of unauthorized trails. The environmental analysis was 474 pages long.
After releasing a preliminary environmental analysis in July 2020, the Shoshone Forest received more than 6,000 comments and decided to reevaluate some aspects of its proposal. Among those were reviews of the wilderness study area and the Line Creek Resource Natural Area, including “guiding management direction, prior environmental assessments, and legal precedent.”
Shoshone administrators will either adopt the proposed plan or undertake a more detailed examination through an environmental impact statement. The agency has not announced when it might make that decision.