Much of the Gallatin Range off-limits to snowmobilers

Weekly Wire Services

The interim winter strategy in effect
for the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn
Wilderness Study Area will remain in
effect following last week’s court ruling
by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Responding to the initial ruling by
Judge Molloy, snowmobiles within
the WSA are constricted to the Big
Sky Snowmobile Trail and an open
“play” area for cross-country travel near
Golden Trout Lakes and areas west of
Windy Pass.
The court said the volume of motorized
use depends on if a WSA provides
“outstanding opportunities for solitude”,
a factor found in the Wilderness
Act’s definition of wilderness.
The court endorsed Forest Service
arguments that the Travel Management
Plan doesn’t need to replicate the 1977
conditions precisely, as long as the
forest maintains the overall wilderness
character of the WSA.
The court concluded “an area’s ability
to provide solitude depends on a
current user’s perception of other users
around them—not just on the physical
characteristics of the land,” and that the
Forest Service’s analysis of the physical
factors failed to grapple with this important
aspect of wilderness character.
The Wilderness Study Area was
designated by the Montana Wilderness
Study Act of 1977 and is managed to allow
uses occurring in 1977 while maintaining
the area’s wilderness character.
The Forest Service will use the court’s
decision moving forward with management
of the WSA.
Mary Erickson, Custer and Gallatin
Forest Supervisor, acknowledged “the
frustration felt by most people involved
in this issue, including ourselves.” By
leaving the interim strategy in place,
the forest aims to give everyone time to
work through the court’s ruling.
The travel plan for national forest land
outside the WSA remains in place.