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Wildland Issues

Including motorized/quiet use issues, effects of noise on wildlife, managing soundscapes as a resource.

This page includes archived items from January 2002-December 2004. For the most recent archives: [GO THERE]

Off-Road Snowmobliling Prohibited to Protect Big Game, Users Warned to Obey Restrictions - Winter closures in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest won't affect visitors this year, but if people don't respect the closures, they may be out of luck in the future. Forest officials, in conjunction with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, have restricted motorized access on nearly 60,000 acres on the forest designated as crucial big game winter range. The areas are in the Snowy Range, Sierra Madres and Laramie Peak areas. Closures are in effect Nov. 15 to April 30. There are some roads within those areas that are open to motorized vehicles, but people must stay on the roads. "There's not too much that's going to change for most users that are using roads in that area," said Rich Guenzel, wildlife biologist with Game and Fish. "If problems develop, we could ask the Forest Service to change that. Our recommendation is to do a case-by-case basis. We can go ahead and have an exception (to winter closures) with the caveat that they should stay on the road. If not, something else has to be done." Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 12/10/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Heli-Skiing Gets Long-term Approval in Tetons - Heliocopter access to back country, including wilderness study areas, can continue, according to an Environmental Analysis just released by Bridger-Teton National Forest. The decision from Forest Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton was long in the making and pitted heli-skiing enthusiasts against conservationists who said the operation harmed wildlife already stressed in winter months with loud helicopters and people in solitary places. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 11/10/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Final Rules Add Restrictions in Exchange for More Clients Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 12/6/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Forest Service Plans Nationwide Off-Road Vehicle Policies - Responding to concerns about ad-hoc policies that vary from Forest to Forest, the National Forest Service has released a proposed rule that will mandate that all National Forests designate specific routes for motorized recreation. The national effort will provide some basic guidance to local forest managers as they attempt to balance the increasing desire for motorized recreation with resource concerns and the need for quiet recreation opportunities. The proposed rule has no firm time-table for development of the individual forest plans, but Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said that he expects substantial progress within two years. The rule is open for public comment through September 13. Sources: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 7/8/04 [READ ARTICLE] National Forest Service Press Release, 7/7/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE] Federal Register Notice, 7/7/04 [READ NOTICE(html)] Denver Post Op-Ed, 7/24/04 [READ ARTICLE] Republicans for Environmental Protection Press Release, 7/9/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: NFS OHV Team Website [WEBSITE]

Roadless Rule Farmed out to States - After three years of administrative and rhetorical chipping away at the Clinton-era Roadless Rule, which severely limited the options for building new roads in currently roadless areas in National Forests, the Bush administration has officially declared that the federal government will not enforce the rule. Instead, individual state governors may petition the Department of Agriculture to implement it on a state by state basis. The Rule has been subject to lawsuits from states and industry, none of which have been fought by the administration, though environmental organizations have stepped into the breach. Source: Grist, 7/14/04 [READ ARTICLE] Federal Register Notice, 7/12/04 [READ NOTICE] Wilderness Society Press Release, 7/12/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Groundbreaking Alliance Unites to Support Quiet Alternative in Idaho - An alliance of hunters, ranchers, anglers, and conservation organizations has recommended that the Forest Service choose the "Traditional Access and Recreation" alternative in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest's proposed Travel Plan. The Forest Service, by contrast, had recommended an alternative that would continue allowing motorized access on more user-created trails. "The forest that I’ve known all my life is being chopped up by motorized trails," said Dick Baker a Downey, Idaho rancher and farmer. "The effects are now seen all seasons, too, with old pack trails turned into motorized tracks in the summer and rampant snowmobile use in the winter. It’s time something was done to protect not only the forest, but our way of life and recreation in southeast Idaho." Source: ENS, 6/11/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

ORVs Face Challenge in Cape Hatras National Seashore - Responding to a growing problem of unregulated ORV use, a coalition of environmental organizations has petitioned the National Park Service to follow through on a 1972 Executive Order that mandated the Seashore to issue plans for ORV trails on public lands. The Seashore has closed a few highly sensitive areas to ORVs, but has not designated specific trails for their use; violations of the closed areas have also been reported. Source: ENS, 6/10/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Thumper Trucks Challenged in Red Desert - Local conservation groups have filed a lawsuit challenging BLM approval of geophysical exploration for oil and gas using 30-ton "thumper trucks." A 275 square mile area, including a Wilderness Study Area, is slated for exploration and development, but the plaintiffs charge that the agency did not consider lower-impact exploration methods that have been used successfully in the area in the past. "There is going to be plenty of oil and gas development in Wyoming, but that is not an excuse to drive heavy equipment helter-skelter across some of the Red Desert's most unique and fragile landscapes," said Erik Molvar of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. Source: ENS, 5/25/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Four-stroke Snowmobiles Not Quiet as Expected - The Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees (CCNPSR) has released results from measurements made this spring in Yellowstone National Park that suggest that the new-generation four-stroke machines are nearly as loud as the older two-stroke engines. The four-stroke snowmobile test results, compiled in an as yet unreleased study conducted in March for the National Park Service, show that 18 out of 20 snowmobile tests generated peak noise levels in excess of 100 decibels. That level is far above Yellowstone's new snowmobile noise standard, which promised to reduce snowmobile noise "at full throttle to no more than 73 decibels." Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 4/16/04 [READ ARTICLE] Grist, 4/20/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Forest Aims to Designate "Quiet" Side of the Mountain - An increase in backcountry skiing and snowboarding has spurred planners in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to propose closing the Montana side of Mount Jefferson in the Centennial Mountains to snowmobiling. "Snowmobiles disturb the natural experience of skiers," said Jonathan Klein, outdoor recreation planner for the Beaverhead's Madison District. "If you want to establish a quality skiing opportunity, you have to do it in the absence of motorized activity." A draft environmental impact statement is due out in December; objections are expected from snowmobile enthusiasts as the plan works its way toward a new management plan over the coming two years. Ed. note: Using natural sound barriers such as the mountain-top ridge to create separation between quiet and motorized recreation is very much in line with fundamental principles of acoustic ecology. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 4/14/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Federal Court OKs ORV Ban on BLM Land - A Federal Appeals Court has rejected claims by off-road vehicle groups that had challenged a BLM closure of ten miles of trails in the Robledo Mountains Wilderness Study Area north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The ruling may prevent similar claims that old trails on some of America’s most pristine public lands can be claimed as public highways. "This is a victory for those who love New Mexico’s wildlife and wild places," said New Mexico Wilderness Alliance Executive Director Dave Parsons. "It means that our kids and grandkids may still be able to find some beautiful, unspoiled areas for hiking, hunting, and peace and quiet in the future." Source: ENS, 4/14/04 [READ ARTICLE] Earthjustice Press Release, 4/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE] 10th Circuit Opinion [DOWNLOAD OPINTION(pdf)]

Skiers, Snowmobilers Agree on Winter Use Plan - Nearly two years of collaborative discussions have paid off for winter recreation enthusiasts of all stripes in the Lewis and Clark National Forest of Montana. The agreement includes continued access to most of the current "play area" terrain enjoyed by snowmobilers, with collaborative monitoring involving all parties. Snowmobiles face bans on off-trail use, and several areas are set aside for skiing only from Dec. 1 to May 15. Larger "blocks" of area will be either quiet or motorized, while all access will be limited to trails marked for allowed uses. The agreement follows in the wake of a similar process the groups took part in two years ago, which resulted in a mutually agreeable winter use plan for the Flathead National Forest. Sources: Great Falls Tribune, 4/28/04 [READ ARTICLE] Flathead plan: Daily Inter Lake News [READ STORY]

Wyoming Judge Suspends Return of Clinton Snowmobile Plan, DC Judge Cites Contempt - In the latest twist in the Yellowstone snowmobile saga, a DC federal judge has initiated hearings into whether the National Park Service should be held in contempt for allowing more snowmobiles into Yellowstone National Park than were allowed by his court order of December 16, 2003. Judge Emmit Sullivan chided the government's "nonchalant" attitude toward his order; a hearing was held March 9, with a followup hearing scheduled for April. This is in response to the Park Service's reaction to a Wyoming federal court, which reopened the park to increased numbers of private snowmobiles this winter, after Sullivan's December ruling that re-enstated the Clinton-era phase-out of private machines. The initial dueling decisions are not exactly contradictory: the DC judge ruled that the Bush plan was invalid (finding that it was politically, rather than scientifically, motivated), while the Wyoming judge placed a temporary restraining order on the Clinton plan, due to its encroachment on the livelihoods of local residents. With both plans now facing legal hurdles, it's anyone's guess what will come next. The Wyoming court had been poised to consider legal challenges to the original Clinton ban in 2001; that case was suspended when an out of court settlement by the Bush administration led to the second round of public input and planning. Temporary rules issued in the wake of the Wyoming ruling increased the numbers of snowmobiles from about 500 to about 800 per day in Yellowstone for the rest of this winter; all will continue to be part of guided tours. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 3/11/04 [READ ARTICLE] ENS 2/19/04 [READ ARTICLE] AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/04 [READ ARTICLE]
Background: Yellowstone Snowmobile Ban "On Again"
- A federal judge in Washington, DC overturned the Bush Administration's revised Winter Use Plan for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks on the eve of the winter snowmobile season. Calling the plan "severely flawed" and "completely politically driven", US District Judge Emmet Sullivan re-instated the Clinton-era plan, which called for a phase-out of snowmobiles; this would be the final winter of private snowmobile use, with bus-like snow coaches providing motorized access in the future. Sullivan also pointed the finger at the administration for the last-minute timing of the decision, which threw local outfitters for a loop on the eve of their busiest season; the Interior Department delayed issuing the official "final rule" until six days before the season was to open. Bill Dart, BlueRibbon Coalition Public Lands Director, commented, "The new decision allows very limited commercial guide access to the park at levels less than 25% of historical use and that is wrong." An appeal by motorized recreation advocates asked for a stay of Sullivan's decision; the immediate stay was denied, but the appeal will proceed. In addition, a separate federal lawsuit in Wyoming, challenging the Clinton plan, may be re-opened; the renewed planning process that resulted in the Bush plan was the result of an out of court settlement that suspended that suit in 2001. Sources: ENS, 12/17/03 [READ ARTICLE] Montana Forum, 1/14/04 (stay rejected; Wyoming case) [READ ARTICLE] Bluewater Network (anti-snowmobiles), 12/17/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE(pdf)] BlueRibbon Coalition (pro-snowmobiles), 12/17/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Related: New lawsuit challenges all motorized access, including snowcoaches
- A new suit by Bluewater Network and others holds that road/trail grooming (which accomodates both snowmobiles and snowcoaches) distorts wildlife distributions, leading bison to stray out of the park into private lands, where they are often shot in fear of infections they may pass to cattle. Judge Sullivan has ordered the Department of the Interior to do a formal study of the effects of such grooming on wildlife movements in and around Yellowstone. Source: High Country News, 1/19/04 [READ ARTICLE]
See AE.org Special Report: Yellowstone Winter Use Plan

Old Faithful Cellphone Tower Sparks Questions - The erection of a hundred-foot cell phone tower on a knoll overlooking Old Faithful has led the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to ask whether the Park Service has an overall policy governing such towers in parks. While Park Service officials cite safety needs, PEER notes that towers in the Grand Canyon and Death Valley raise deeper questions. "Apart from all the legalities and technicalities, one of the other issues we're looking at going on is what we call the death of solitude, whether there will be any place too remote for cell phone access," PEER's executive director, Jeff Ruch, said Thursday. Source: Casper Star-Tribune, 3/12/04 [READ ARTICLE] PEER Press Release [READ PRESS RELEASE]
RELATED: NPS Allowing Cell Phone Proliferation in Parks -
The National Park System has abdicated its responsibility to protect park scenery and serenity by opening every unit to cell tower construction, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition, NPS is violating requirements that the public be notified of, and allowed to comment on, new cell towers. When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened federal lands to tower construction, Congress directed the National Park Service to develop appropriate regulations for preventing unsightly proliferation of towers. “The National Park Service is inducing the death of solitude,” stated PEER Board Member Frank Buono, a former long-time NPS manager who does not own a cell phone. “How can one commune with nature when you cannot escape ‘the calling area’ of civilization?”Source: PEER Press Release, 4/8/04 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Jetskis Return to Lake Roosevelt - After two years of quiet, jetskis are once again being allowed to ply the waters of Washington State's Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. The National Park Service has completed an environmental analysis of the vehicles; all NPS units were required to suspend personal watercraft use in 2002 pending such site-specific analysis. Source: ENS, 6/25/04 [READ ARTICLE(sub)]

Supreme Court Hears Landmark Wilderness Study Area Case - The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a government appeal that seeks to allow off-road vehicles to be allowed into Wilderness Study Areas. WSAs have traditionally been managed to protect their wilderness quality pending final wilderness designation decisions. The Bush administration is appealing a lower court ruling that the courts can forced the BLM to protect WSAs from off-road vehicle damage; the admistration seeks to establish precedent that courts can only respond to governement actions, not to government inaction (ie, failure to enforce ORV bans). Source: ENS, 3/29/04 (subscription) [READ ARTICLE]
UPDATE: Court Rules Unanimously that BLM is not bound by WSAs -
A June ruling from the Supreme Court held that the BLM need not take proactive steps to protect WSAs; while the agency is free to issue regulations, it cannot be challenged in court for inaction. However, even in ruling on the merits for the BLM, justice Scalia noted that ORVs do cause "harassment of animals and annoyance of wilderness lovers." Source: ENN, 6/15/04 [READ ARTICLE] Salt Lake Tribune, 6/15/04 [READ ARTICLE]

Forest Service Releases Roadless Rule Final Directive - Completing a reassessment that began in the first days of the Bush Administration, the Forest Service has codified much of the interim managment that has guided implementation of the Roadless Rule, which aimed to protect roadless areas in National Forests from roadbuilding. The Tongass National Forest in Alaska, eyed for ongoing logging, was exempted; the directive maintains a wide degree of latitude for forest managers nationwide to approve new roads. Source: Wildlands CPR newslist, 12/26/03, USFS website [DOWNLOAD FINAL DIRECTIVE(doc)]

Forest Service OHV Team Developing New National Policies - The US National Forest Service has initiated a program aimed at developing new policies to regulate off-highway vehicle use. Central to the program is a move to generally prohibit cross-country travel, restricting OHV use to existing roads and trails. The policy and implementation teams aim to work with OHV enthusiasts as well as quiet users to develop a coherent national approach to the difficult task of designating routes in areas where OHV use has been effectively unregulated. A leading motorized use advocacy group, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, has voiced support for efforts to bar off-trail driving, in return for acceptance of all "existing or established routes of travel" to be kept open. Meanwhile, quiet use advocates hope for some significant road closures to be part of the process. Source: Wildlands CPR mail list, 12/03 [OHV PROGRAM WEBSITE] [DOWNLOAD 1/04 NEWSLETTER(pdf)] BlueRibbon Coalition Press Release, 12/2/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]

Jet Training Missions Draw Fire - A Record of Decision filed by the Navy will lead to a marked increase in flights near an important wildife refuge in North Carolina. The "Super Hornet Initiative" calls for training flights to be at an Outlying Landing Field in Washington County; up to 30,000 take offs and landings are expected each year as planes head out to practice landings on offshore aircraft carriers. Over a hundred thousand birds use the nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge's Pungo Unit as a wintering ground. Local residents aren't overly excited about the new noise,either. Source: News and Observer, 9/14/03 [READ ARTICLE] Wilmington Star, 9/11/03 [READ ARTICLE] North Carolina Audubon Society Press Release, 9/10/03 [READ ALERT]

White House Releases NEPA Plans - The Bush administration has released a series of recommendations to "modernize" NEPA. Among the goals is the creation of "cagtegorical" exclusions to NEPA; among the activities that may no longer require Environmental Impact Statements are management plans for Off-Road Vehicles and fire-prevention logging projects. Source: Scripps-Howard News Service/WTEV, 9/25/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Big Cypress ORV Restrictions Upheld - A federal court has upheld Big Cypress National Preserve's plan to close much of the preserve to off-road vehicle use. Though the Preserve's plan included 400 miles of designated trails, vehicle advocates challenged the limits in court. "With this ruling, the court is upholding the Park Service's work to create a balanced solution to the problems in Big Cypress by limiting off-road vehicles to those routes that have been specifically designated for their use," said Bethanie Walder, executive director of Wildlands CPR. Source: Wildlands CPR newslist, 8/20/03
Related: National Association of Counties Asks Feds for Better ORV Management - At its national meeting, the National Association of Counties passed a resolution asking the Forest Service and BLM implement plans to keep off-road vehicles on designated trails and roads or in limited ORV areas. The resolution states that, "While both the Forest Service and BLM recognize the need to manage ORV use, the agencies have not implemented and funded a nation-wide policy to actively manage and monitor ORV use on public lands. It is time for these agencies to take an active management role in ORV use in collaboration with local government, local law enforcement and community groups."
Related: Idaho Considers 800-mile ORV Recreation Loop - The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation has submitted plans to federal agencies that would link existing roads and trails into a 500-mile loop that would allow travel around and into the Lost River Mountain range. 300 miles of side loops are being proposed as well, with future plans to link to other towns, expanding the network toward 1200 miles. Idaho has some large wilderness areas where vehicle use is prohibited, perhaps spurring this large-scale response. Local wild land advocates are concerned that such a huge road network would be impossible to manage or regulate. Source: Wildlands CPR newslist, 8/20/03

Snowmobiles Win Squeaker in the House - The House of Representatives came within a whisker of reinstating the snowmobile ban at Yellowstone; an amendment to the Interior Appropriations Bill calling for the use of snowcoaches only in the national park tied at 212-212. A majority was needed to approve the amendment; the original vote was a 211-209 victory for the ban, but arm-twisting led to one unidentified vote being reversed. The Senate is expected to take up a similar provision in the fall. Source: Wilderness Society, 7/28/03 [SEE ROLLCALL VOTE LIST]

Lake Powell Jet Skis to Stay - The BLM issued a final Record of Decision regarding jet ski use in Lake Powell; the personal watercraft will be allowed throughout the lake, with the exception of several tributary rivers. Two stroke engines will be phased out by 2012. Source: Wildlands CPR press release, 7/3/03.
Related: Lake Mead Lets Jet Skis Loose - The final Record of Decision governing personal watercraft (PWC) operation on Lake Mead Recreation Area has opened virtually the entire lake to jet ski use. Research done by the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse found that new quieter PWC and no-wake zones, which the Park Service is depending on to limit noise impacts, in fact do not reduce noise levels significantly. Source: Bluewater Network Press Release, 4/8/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE(pdf)]

Bush to Implement Clinton Roadless Rule, Kind of - The Bush administration will let a temporary policy expire on June 14, and thus allow implementation of the Roadless Rule, which protects over 50 million acres of National Forest land from new road building. After taking office, the new administration had refused to mount a legal defense of the rule and had granted Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth authority to approve new roads. A Federal District Court affirmed the legality of the rule, while Bosworth never used the authority granted him. A permanent set of guidelines to implement the Rule will be developed later this year. Source: AP/ENN, 6/5/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Followup:
Early indications are that the Bush guidelines will allow road building in the two largest national forests, both in Alaska, and may also include provisions allowing state governors to grant exemptions. In response to these attempts to water down the original intent, 150 members of congress have cosponsored a bill to codify the rule. Governors Judy Martz of Montana and Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming have already indicated they would seek exemptions. Governor Bill Owens of Colorado said that he would not seek exemptions from the roadless rule that protects about 4 million acres in Colorado. Source: Wildlands CPR weekly news brief, 6/9/03, 6/20/03 [WEBSITE]

Outdoor Industry Groups, Conservation Organizations Take Stands on Keeping Roads out of Wild Areas - Outdoor industry trade organizations have threatened to take their lucrative trade shows out of Utah in protest of the state's push to claim primitive roads on public lands. Meanwhile, a coalition of ten environmental organizations have filed suit to block the agreement between the state and the federal government. Source: High Country News, 6/9/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Agreement Opens Backcountry to Road Claims
- The State of Utah and the Department of Interior have signed a new agreement that suggests the direction that will be taken by the administration in dealing with state and county road claims under an obscure statutory loophole reopened by the Bush team last year ([SEE STORY]). Under the agreement, the state will drop claims to unimproved and abandoned roads in National Parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. In return, claims on roads in other federal holdings (including 2.6 million acres of BLM Wilderness Study Areas recently stripped of interim wilderness protection) will be fair game. The state will begin submitting claims on old road tracks early this summer. Source: High Country News, 5/12/03 [READ ARTICLE]
UPDATE: House passes amendment to limit new road claims - The House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Interior Appropriations Bill that will protect National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and Wilderness Areas from Utah road claims; a broader amendment, which would have refused to fund any road claim processing, failed to pass. Source: Wilderness Society, 7/28/03 [SEE VOTE TALLY]
Related: Wilderness Study Areas lose protections - An agreement between the Department of Interior and the State of Utah has stripped all development protection from 2.6 million acres identified as roadless and remote enough to qualify as possible wilderness areas. Originally concieved as a way to "bookmark" areas that may eventually be designated as wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas came out of extensive inventories of public lands, especially BLM lands. The new directive, planned for implementation across the west, not only opens these areas to roadbuilding or other development, but also prohibits the BLM from conducting any further wilderness inventories or designating any new WSA without explicit congressional direction. Wilderness activists have long considered the BLM inventories that led to the current, soon to be discarded, WSAs to have vastly underestimated the acreage that qualifes (thanks to roadlessness and opportunities for solitude) as wilderness. Source: High Country News, 4/28/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Colorado River Management Plan Scoping Process Underway - Grand Canyon National Park is beginning the development of a new river management plan. The initial "scoping process" is now underway, which will identify key issues to be addressed in the new management plan. If you would like them to consider soundscape preservation in their planning process, now is a good time to make that point.
Action Alert from the Wilderness Society [SEE ALERT]
Park Service Colorado River Management Plan Website, including newsletter, email list, and contact info [WEBSITE]

Maine Considers Bills to Protect Private Landowners from ORV Trespass - Maine is taking steps to protect the environment from the use of off-road vehicles amid complaints of their effects on private property. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committee will review nine bills aimed at increasing regulations on off-road vehicle users. Private land owners have complained of off-road vehicle users disregarding signs prohibiting use on their land, carving new trails and destroying old ones. In addition to the environmental cost of off-road vehicles, human life has also taken a toll - one death and 292 injuries were reported in Maine during 2002 from off-road vehicle use. The proposed bills include mandatory written permission from private landholders to use off-road vehicles on their land, triple liability for damages caused to private land, and an increase of registration fees to pay for increased regulations. Source: Wildlands CPR news digest, 4/16/03 [MORE INFO]

Algodones Dunes Opened to ORV's - The Fish and Wildlife Service has granted a permit to the BLM to open half of Southern California's Algodones Dunes to off-road vehicle use. The area had been protected after a 2000 agreement between the BLM and several environmental organizations, spurred by impacts on endangered species. Source: Faultline, 4/11/03 [READ ARTICLE]

Maine Considers Bills to Protect Private Landowners from ORV Trespass - Maine is taking steps to protect the environment from the use of off-road vehicles amid complaints of their effects on private property. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife committee will review nine bills aimed at increasing regulations on off-road vehicle users. Private land owners have complained of off-road vehicle users disregarding signs prohibiting use on their land, carving new trails and destroying old ones. In addition to the environmental cost of off-road vehicles, human life has also taken a toll - one death and 292 injuries were reported in Maine during 2002 from off-road vehicle use. The proposed bills include mandatory written permission from private landholders to use off-road vehicles on their land, triple liability for damages caused to private land, and an increase of registration fees to pay for increased regulations. Source: Wildlands CPR news digest, 4/16/03 [MORE INFO]

Yellowstone Snowmobile Plan Released - The Department of Interior has released its Record of Decision on the new Winter Use Plan at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The new plan implements daily caps that are above previous overall average usage, but below weekend peaks; it also limits the number of vehicles that can enter at West Yellowstone, the most popular entry point, and requires most visitors to be part of tour groups. The use of modern generation quieter, cleaner machines will be phased in, as well. [See AcousticEcology.org Special Report: Yellowstone Winter Use]
Related: Yellowstone Protection Act to be introduced in Congress - Senators Harry Reid and Lincoln Chafee, and Reps. Holt and Shays in the House, are preparing to introduce The Yellowstone Protection Act, which will enact the Park Service's original plan to phase in a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone. Western lawmakers are confident that they can defeat the proposal. "It has no chance to succeed," Rep Barbara Cubin (R-WY) said. Source: Wilderness Society Action Alert, 2/21/03 [SEE ACTION ALERT] Billings Gazette, 3/6/03 [READ ARTICLE]
Related: Suit Filed to Block Record of Decision -
The Fund for Animals, Bluewater Network, and the Ecology Fund filed suit in federal court to block the Bush Administrations' Record of Decision on the Winter Use Plan. Source: Bluewater Network Press Release, 3/25/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE(pdf)]

Off-Road Vehicles Targeted in Several Actions - Three recent actions have raised the ire of ORV enthusiasts. Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) has reintroduced a bill that would impose stiff fines and possible jail time as penalties for illegal off-road travel on public lands. Similarly targeting illegal ORV travel, a group of high school students in Petaluma, California have raised a call for local residents to clamp down on ORV damage to a watershed they've been involved in restoring since 1984. And, after the Cape Hattaras National Seashore put 3600 acres off-limits to dune buggies and other ORVs, citing concerns about the noise causing endangered piping plovers to abandon nests, a local ORV advocacy group filed suit to block the limits. Source: Wildlands Coalition to Prevent Roads, 2/27/03 [WEBSITE]

New Road Rule Re-opens Public Lands to Private Road Claims - On Christmas Eve, the Bush administration quietly issued a new rule that could open roads in backcountry public lands. The action re-opens a controversy that has brewed since the 1976 passage of a Congressional law ending a 19th century practice of allowing states, counties, and individuals to cut roads through public lands. At that time (1976), existing roads were left open to claim by counties and states; originally, this exemption was to last only 12 years, but it was extended in 1988. Bruce Babbit tried to tighten the requirements (which were loosened in the Reagan era to allow cow paths to be claimed as roads), but was stymied by the Utah congressional delegation, which succeeded in passing a law to stop any revisions to the rules; Babbit responded by directing his department to stop processing road claims. The new action re-opens the claims process, and many environmental activists fear that current BLM and Park Service staffers will be lenient in accepting them. Among the outstanding claims are 2500 miles of roads in the Mojave National Preserve claimed by San Bernadino County, and 10,000 routes claimed by the state of Utah. Sources: High Country News, 2/3/03 [READ ARTICLE] Wilderness Society Press Release, 1/6/03 [READ PRESS RELEASE]
Download Interior Department Road Rule [DOWNLOAD RULE(pdf)]

Montana Forest Plans Motorized Access to Trails - A draft of the new Travel Plan for the Lewis and Clark National Forest has been released. Much to the dismay of quiet use advocates, the plan aims to open over two thirds of the area's horse and hiking trails to ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles. The plan covers a hundred miles of the Rocky Mountain Front along the Idaho and Montana border. Source: Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads 12/6/02 [WEBSITE]
Update: Public comments ran overwhelmingly against the draft plan's motorized use regulations. 98% of comments nationally, and 92% of comments from Montana, and 83% of area residents opposed off-road vehicle use along the Rocky Mountain Front. Source: Wildlands CPR news release, 12/3/03

Snowmobiles Ban Overturned at Yellowstone - After a new round of study and public comments (360,000 of them, more than ever), the National Park Service has decided to allow up to 1100 snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. This is higher than the recent averages of 840 per day, but lower than the weekend peaks of 1600-2000 per day. A significant decrease in peak traffic through the main gate in West Yellowstone (550 per day, down from peak days of 1200) will disperse the impacts; this will likely decrease intense impacts, but also spread moderate impacts into more areas. In addition, 80 percent of the traffic will be part of guided tours, and new, cleaner and (somewhat) quieter machines will be phased in, starting with commercial rentals in 2003 and including private machines in 2004. The new limits take effect in the 2003/4 winter season. Meanwhile, advocates of the ban, including the Wilderness Society, plan to work with Congressional allies to craft a legislative ban or reduction in motorized recreation in Yellowstone. Sources: The Manhattan Mercury, 11/8/02 [READ ARTICLE] AP, 11/11/02 [READ STORY] LA Times, 11/13/02 [READ ARTICLE] Tom Toles cartoon about decision, 11/14/02 [SEE CARTOON]
[See AcousticEcology.org Special Report: Yellowstone Plan]

Jet Skis Temporarily Banned from Lake Powell - While proceeding with the development of a new management plan that currently lean toward liberal rules for jet skis, the National Park Service has temporarily banned them as of November 1. A hundred thousand jet skis visited annually, accounting for about a quarter of the lake's boat traffic. As part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Bluewater Network, the Park Service banned the machines in 66 parks (including National Seashores and National Recreation Areas) and agreed to institute an environmental impact process for 21 more. The draft EIS for Lake Powell recommends allowing jetskis in the lake, but not the tributary rivers; likewise, the draft EIS for Lake Mead keeps 98 percent of the lake open to jetskis. In Lake Powell, officials hope to complete the process and open the lake back up by next spring, though further court challenges are, of course, possible. Source: High Country News, 10/28/02 [READ ARTICLE]
SEE GLEN CANYON/LAKE POWELL EIS [WEBPAGE] SEE LAKE MEAD DRAFT FINAL RULE [WEBPAGE]

Marin County Ban on Jetskis Upheld by State Supreme Court - The California State Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision that a county ban on jetskis is legal, rejecting claims by jetski manufacturers and owners that the ordinance was too vague. Source: Bluewater Network Press Release, 10/17/02 [READ PRESS RELEASE(pdf)]

Soundscape as a Resource to Protect - Widely known soundscape producer Gordon Hempton (aka The Soundtracker) has called for the creation of havens from the nearly universal presence of human-made sound. He has worked with the managers of his "local" national park on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and made his case to the national managers in D.C. This recent (August 2000) article from the Environmental News Network is a good introduction to the issue. [GO THERE]

Biscayne National Park Soundcape Study - Biscayne National Park in Florida is the first US National Park to initiate an in-depth study of its soundcape resources.Read about the Park's assesment of the issues. [GO THERE]
More information can be found in heir first newsletter on their programs to study and protect these resources. [GO THERE]

The Effects of Noise on Wildlife - Symposium, August 2000: Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Happy Valley, Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada
This symposium will not only present talks on auditory thresholds for animals, but feature data on the responses of raptors, waterfowl and other birds to jets and other aircraft. Contact: Rexanne Hopkins, Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research, P.O. Box 1859, Sta. B., Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada. Phone: 709-896-3266. Fax: 709-896-3076.[WEBSITE]
[E-MAIL]

The Effects of Noise on Campers - During a visit to Lake Sonoma in California, visitor Brad Brace encountered not a few obstacles to his hoped-for getaway from the city. Here's the short letter he wrote in protest--more like this would be great! [ARTICLE]

Compromise on Snowmobile Use in Flathead NF - A court ruling that pleased no one has led to a collaborative managment plan regulating snowmobile use on the Flathead National forest in Montana. The new plan, being implemented for a one-year test period, closes less area to motorized use than the court-ordered plan, while also offering more stringent monitoring of highly-valued wild areas. The plan was developed by the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Snowmobile Association, and Flathead National Forest. Source: High Country News, 3/4/02

Jetski Ban Poised to Take Effect - The Bush administration has decided not to oppose or postpone the imminent implentation of a ban on jetskis in National Parks, National Seashores, and National Recreation Areas. As proposed during the Clinton administration, bans on personal watercraft are due to take effect in 13 parks on April 22. Five of those parks are in the process of environmental assessments to determine if some watercraft may be allowed, but they, too, will implement the ban pending completion of the assessments. Eight other parks are under a September 15 deadline for adopting rules for managing personal watercraft, or to ban them, while a prohibition on such watercraft already exists in 66 of the 87 bodies of water under park service jurisdiction. A Federal Judge has set a hearing for April 17 to consider an industry lawsuit asking for a stay in the ban, while Congress is considering bills to postpone the ban (a House vote is possible as early as next week, while the Senate is considered unlikely to pass such a bill). Source: AP, April 10, 2002

EPA readies emission standards for personal recreation vehicles - A new set of emission standards for snowmobiles, jetskis, ORV's and other small engines is being finalized by the EPA. During a public comment period that ended on January 18, 2002, over 13,000 comments were fielded that called for more stringent standards. Environmental advocates complain that the rule falls far short, and that much more can be done to reduce emissions and noise using technology readily available today. A final rule is to be released by September 15, 2002. Source: Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, January 2002. [PRESS RELEASE]

ORV Management Plan Proceeds in Big Cypress/Everglades - In January 2002, the Bush Administration broke off settlement talks with ORV users who had sued to overturn a new managment plan aimed at closing thousands of miles of ORV trails in Big Cypress National Preserve, a part of the Everglades. Environmental advocates praised the decision. Source: Natural Trails and Waters Coalition, 1/15/01 [PRESS RELEASE]
Related Story:
Oil and gas leasing proposed for Big Cypress, seismic exploration would follow. Comment period ended 2/25/02. Source: The Wilderness Society, 2/15/02 [ACTION ALERT]

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