Forest recreation raises environmental concerns

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(Host) Environmentalists want the U.S. Forest Service to regulate snowmobile use on federal land in Vermont. They say that snowmobile traffic has increased in the Green Mountain National Forest. Yet they argue that the Forest Service has failed to examine the environmental impacts.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Green Mountain National Forest has about 440 miles of snowmobile trails. The trails are maintained by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers – known as VAST – and its member snowmobile clubs.

According to Chris Kilian of the Conservation Law Foundation, the Forest Service should have required the snowmobile clubs to get a special use permit to operate on the federal land. Kilian says the trail use falls under the definition of commercial activity in the National Forest, since VAST collects a substantial fee for people to ride on its trails. The annual payment for a Vermont resident is $55, while someone from out-of-state pays $85.

(Kilian) “A lot of the activity that’s actually going on has never been approved and none of the activity that’s going on in the forest has ever been subjected to environmental review. Snowmobile activity has a substantial impact on other less intrusive uses in the form of noise, disturbance of wildlife habitat and wildlife species, conflicts with other recreational uses, air pollution, soil and water erosion. All of those things should be reviewed in a comprehensive way and never have been.”

(Dillon) The Conservation Law Foundation, along with the Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Forest Watch environmental group recently set out its legal argument in a 12-page letter to the Forest Service.

Green Mountain Forest Supervisor Paul Brewster says his lawyers have to study the issue. But Brewster says there’s a potential that if the Forest Service imposes greater regulation on snowmobile clubs, it may then have to hold other trail clubs to the same legal standard. Brewster says if VAST needs a special use permit, the other groups may also have to comply as well.

(Brewster) “There’s a number of other points made in this letter that I think have a lot of bearing on our partnership relationships, not only with VAST, but other trail entities such as the Green Mountain Club, the Appalachian Trail conference. So there’s a lot of implications across the board.”

(Dillon) The executive director of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers also says he’s reviewing the permit issue with the Forest Service.

VAST maintains about 5-thousand miles of trails, with more than 400 miles on national forest land.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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