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Threat of lawsuit forces Lolo Forest
to shut down snowmobile areas

Snowmobile restrictions felt
mostly around Lake Elsina area

MA 11, 12 Closed to Motorized Vehicles

by Gary Noland
For the Pathfinder
December 17, 1998

An Environmental Assessment study on snowmobiling in the Stateline area along the Idaho-Montana border has suddenly impacted snowmobiling in the Seeley-Swan area, particularly in the Lake Elsina area.

In a letter (reprinted below) from Lolo National Forest Supervisor, Charles C. Wildes, that was dated Tuesday, Dec. 15, the supervisor addressed not only the Stateline areas, for which the Environmental Assessment is named, but also addressed snowmobiling issues in other management areas closer to home.

Two management areas in the Lolo Forest, Management Areas 11 and 12, cover 400,000 acres of roadless lands, about one quarter of the two million acres in the Lolo National Forest.

In essence, snowmobiling is being curtailed by the closure of these two management areas to "motorized vehicles" following the threat of a lawsuit by the Montana Wilderness Association, according to Tim Love, Seeley Lake Ranger, and the letter issued Tuesday by Wildes.

The ongoing Stateline Environmental Assessment has focused a lot on the Great Burn area near Superior with no mention of areas near Seeley Lake that are now included because of the lawsuit threat and obvious contradictions within the Lolo National Forest Plan that have been pointed out by Forest Service legal counsel.

In an interview Tuesday, Seeley Lake Ranger Love said the Forest Plan, adopted in 1986, calls for "no motorized" use in these management areas.

"The Forest's Travel Management Plan, a subordinate document, says something else, and the two plans have never been reconciled," Love said.

Sitting at a conference table and studying maps with Love Tuesday afternoon was Bruce Johnson, Resource Assistant at the Seeley Ranger Station.

"We're in a little bit of shock about this," Johnson said, adding that all along Forest Service officials have assumed snowmobiling was not intended to be included in the language barring motorized vehicles.

Love, however, said the new restrictions do not affect any groomed snowmobile trails.

Aside from the primary affected area, Lake Elsina, there are areas around Pyramid Pass, Morrell Mountain and Dunham Creek areas that are also prohibited for snowmobiling under the new restrictions.

Love pointed out, however, that those areas are not heavily used by snowmobilers and are in rugged country.

The Lake Elsina area, though, is heavily used by power sledders and even others of more moderate means and machines.

There is a groomed snowmobile trail to Lake Elsina and snowmobilers can still snowmobile to the Lake, "but not beyond that point," Love said.

Johnson pointed out that the high-elevation areas to the east of Lake Elsina are popular for "early and late season snowmobilers" as well as power sledders.

Love and Johnson were busy Tuesday afternoon contacting local snowmobile dealers, snowmobile clubs in Seeley Lake and Lincoln, Chamber of Commerce officials, outfitters and others that might be impacted by the new restrictions. These groups were invited to a question-and-answer session slated for Thursday at the Ranger Station.

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