Friday, January 26, 2007


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy the Sawtooth National Forest An overturned sign and tracks on a hillside designated for backcountry skiing are evidence that a group of snowmobilers violated the Winter Use Agreement in the SNRA earlier this month. Until now, the carefully crafted agreement had been respected by both sides since it was implemented six years ago.

In November 2000 snowmobilers and skiers launched a plan designed to end an ongoing turf war in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area north of Ketchum.

For the last six years both sides have adhered to the plan, known as the Winter Use Agreement, which designated specific areas for each user group.

That changed earlier this month.

According to Joe Miczulski, winter sports specialist for the Sawtooth National Forest, which enforces the plan, a group of snowmobilers "flagrantly" violated the Winter Use Agreement in the East Fork of Baker Creek sometime between Jan. 13 and Jan. 18.

The snowmobilers yanked signs describing the permitted use in the area. They turned them upside down before driving into an area designated solely for backcountry skiing, Miczulski said.

The Winter Use Agreement was jointly created by the Winter Recreation Coalition, a group of five snowmobilers and five skiers formed by the Blaine County Recreation District, between 1996 and 2000.

The Bureau of Land Management is currently in the process of developing its own similar recreation plan for Blaine County. That plan is much broader, taking into consideration all uses on BLM land, not just motorized and non-motorized.

According to the Winter Use Agreement snowmobile use in the Baker Creek area is limited to East Fork Baker Creek Road, while backcountry skiers have reign of the hills.

Miczulski said there have been a "few minor incursions" over the years but that the most recent incident "is the worst one I'm aware of."

Kurt Nelson, Ketchum District Ranger, said he was "disappointed" by the actions of the snowmobilers, especially given the hard work that went into the agreement.

"It has worked well and kept the peace we all like to see," he said.

Bryan Baird, a member of the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club, which also helped devise the plan, was equally disturbed.

"Local snowmobilers have worked really hard to earn the respect of others through our efforts on the Winter Recreation Coalition and with the club," Baird said. "Irresponsible riding, no matter where it occurs, does not help protect our opportunities to ride in the Wood River Valley."

Andy Munter, a skiing member of the Winter Recreation Coalition, said the lack of snow in the Wood River Valley this year makes it especially critical to comply with the rules.

"Compared to last year, the lack of fresh snow is limiting everyone's opportunity to ski or ride this winter," Munter said. "It's winters like these that make the agreement reached by the coalition so important to all backcountry users."

Nelson said the Forest Service will continue to patrol the area, monitor use and promote "the user group created solution to reduce conflicts on our public lands."




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