Federal Judge Ronald Bush in Boise, Idaho has sided with backcountry skiers over snowmobilers in a ruling that the US Forest Service broke the law with its' Travel Management Rule, according to the AP. The Idaho-based Winter Wildlands Alliance argued the agency's decision to allow individual forests to exempt snowmobiles from the rules was illegal and created conflicts between snowmobiles and backcountry skiers.
The judge ordered the Forest Service to write a new rule consistent with his decision within 180 days. The decision will cause changes in national forests in Idaho, but could also prompt national forests across the West and other states to revisit its off-road policies.
The decision was released on March 29, 2013, and declared unlawful the agency's 2005 Travel Management Rule for violating "plain language" in a forty-year old Executive Order and allowing it to be "discretionary" whether the Forest Service designates "areas of use or non-use" by snowmobiles. The 2005 Rule was years and millions of dollars in the making, according to the Blue Ribbon Coalition. The parties to the case, including snowmobile advocates Idaho State Snowmobile Association, American Council of Snowmobile Associations, and BlueRibbon Coalition, are still interpreting the court's ruling. "This is either a tectonic shift or much ado about nothing," said Sandra Mitchell. "Forest Service rules and maps have for decades regulated not only areas of 'use and non-use' but details to the gnat's eyelash regarding winter use of specific roads and trails for motorized and non-motorized users. If it does anything, this decision will create unnecessary controversy and further sap the planning budget of an agency already fearful of being raided in the name of fiscal reform," added Sandra. The decision is subject to appeal for sixty days.