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Know the West

Greens bail on 'bilers



Last summer, a group of snowmobilers, wildlife advocates, cross-country skiers and business owners embarked on an ambitious adventure: to work out a collaborative plan for managing winter use in the Medicine Bow National Forest's Snowy Range. By early September, two environmentalists had defected.

Eric Bonds of Biodiversity Associates and the other green, University of Wyoming professor Bill Baker, wanted the group to address the impact of increased snowmobile traffic on ptarmigan habitat, but it refused. Bonds claims that's because the group, set up by the Forest Service, was stacked. The group's facilitator is a hotel owner in the region whose major clientele are snowmobilers and, Bonds says, 14 of the group's 30 members represent the snowmobile industry.

"They never really attempted to evaluate the environmental impacts of snowmobiles," says Bonds. "The Forest Service continues to be an ostrich with its head in the sand and ignore these contentious issues that have polarized this community."

The agency counters that Bonds and Baker misunderstood the intent of the group.

"The group realized early on that it would spin its wheels dealing with environmental studies," says Jon Silvius of the Medicine Bow National Forest. "Instead (it) decided to not take on bigger issues; they were trying to find successes."

The group continues to meet, and this past month it recommended the agency improve its signs, distribute a map that outlines where snowmobilers and skiers should tread, and set up volunteers to monitor the area.