« Return to this article

Know the West

Montana revved up about snowmobile agreement



When hard-pressed, even the most antagonistic foes can reconcile their differences, as snowmobilers and wilderness advocates demonstrated in their recent agreement on motorized access in Montana's Flathead National Forest.

Early last year, months of legal wrangling between the Montana Wilderness Association, Montana Snowmobile Association and the Flathead National Forest ended in a ruling that would have severely restricted motorized access and threatened a tract of land valued by many wilderness advocates. Instead, the three parties asked Montana magistrate Leif Ericson for time to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"For the first five months of negotiations, each meeting looked like it would be the last," says John Gatchell, conservation director of the wilderness association. But in early December, the negotiators announced a plan that maintains access to more than 90 percent of previous motorized areas, but also calls for more rigid monitoring of sensitive wild lands. Volunteers from both the wilderness association and the snowmobiling association will assist the Forest Service in monitoring motorized use.

All parties agree that the negotiated plan is better than what was handed down from the court. "Without a doubt, there are more opportunities for everybody," says Alan Brown, legal consultant for the snowmobile association.

Flathead Forest Supervisor Cathy Barbouletos will implement the plan on a temporary basis for one year. She feels confident that the Forest Service will incorporate the agreement as an amendment to the forest management plan by next winter.