LOGAN Members of skiing and environmental groups aren't happy with the U.S. Forest Service's decision to open more land in Logan Canyon to snowmobiling.
After years of haggling, the Forest Service decided to slash the amount of land set aside for nonmotorized recreation in a popular part of the canyon by almost half. The approximately 9,500 acres from the Tony Grove area north to Franklin Basin where snowmobiles had been banned will be reduced this winter to two separate areas with a combined acreage of about 4,500.
That means skiers or snowshoers in those areas will be subjected to the noise and exhaust fumes of nearby snowmobilers, said Nick Bouwes, who just stepped down as president of Nordic United, a group that promotes nonmotorized winter recreation.
"It's going to be impossible to ski in those areas without hearing snowmobiles," Bouwes said. "Part of the experience is trying to get out into the backcountry and experience peace and quiet."
But members of snowmobiling groups said the new boundaries are the result of the Forest Service's effort to strike a compromise between snowmobilers and skiers. Snowmobilers wanted, but failed to get, access to areas closer to U.S. Highway 89, said Garth Barker, public lands director for the Top of Utah Snowmobile Association.
"It's probably as equitable as it's going to get," Barker said. "Both sides kind of lost on the deal."
With the increased popularity of outdoor sports like cross country skiing and the development of snowmobiles that can travel farther into the backcountry, conflicts between the two groups escalated to the point the Forest Service decided to restrict snowmobiles to specific areas. The Forest Service's 2003 plan banned snowmobiling in an area bordered roughly by the Mount Naomi Wilderness on the west, U.S. 89 on the east, Tony Grove Creek on the south and Hell's Kitchen near Franklin Basin on the north.
But many skiers and snowmobilers disliked the plan, and David Tenny, a top official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, directed the Forest Service to reconsider. After snowmobiling and skiing groups offered alternatives, the Forest Service expanded the snowmobiling boundaries.
The Forest Service caved in to pressure from U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Bryan Dixon, a backcountry skier who belongs to Nordic United and the Bridgerland Audubon Society.
A spokesman for Bishop confirmed the congressman did get involved but only because he wanted to make sure the process was fair.
"Our office was most interested in making sure both sides were being heard," Scott Parker said. "I don't get the sense that Rob pushed for one side or the other."
Meanwhile, this winter will be the first under the new boundaries, and the Forest Service hopes for few confrontations between skiers and snowmobilers. Both sides tell tales about misbehavior by the other side.
Snowmobilers say a skier assaulted a snowmobiler and threatened Forest Service officials at Tony Grove last year. The Forest Service confirmed there was an incident but said it was hard to determine exactly what happened.
On the other hand, skiers blame snowmobilers for vandalism at a backcountry yurt in 2006. Skiers complain snowmobilers also intentionally packed a parking lot near Franklin basin last winter in an effort to disrupt a cross country skiing race.
Skiers also contend snowmobilers harass wildlife and create avalanche hazards by driving above skiers on slopes.
But snowmobilers complain skiers, who sometimes bring their dogs, disrupt wildlife more than snowmobiles, which go through wildlife areas quickly. Besides, snowmobilers said, the best snowmobiling is at the higher elevations, and deer, elk and moose move to lower areas in the winter.
"If you cross country with your dog, they will run," said Kelly Leishman, president of the Top of Utah group. "They get used to a moving vehicle."
And snowmobilers point out that skiers are free to go virtually anywhere in Cache National Forest, including wilderness areas, while snowmobiles are boxed in by boundaries.
Despite the conflicts, most skiers and snowmobilers get along, said Ron Vance, recreation resource manager for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
"We haven't run into that many confrontations. We know there is a lot of unpleasantness," he said. "It's mostly a few bad apples."
Contrary to stereotypes, Vance said, many snowmobilers are concerned about the environment, and snowmobilers have reported other snowmobilers who have broken the rules.
But Dixon complained few snowmobilers are prosecuted for entering closed areas.
"There are a significant number of snowmobilers who intentionally violate those boundaries," Dixon said. "They don't have any fear whatsoever of being caught."
During the past three winters, the Forest Service has cited 13 snowmobilers, mostly for going out of bounds. Another 18 have received warning notices.
Snowmobiling in a closed area is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
This winter, Vance said, a Forest Service officer will patrol the Logan Ranger District on a snowmobile. In the past, there has been only one such officer for the Ogden and Logan districts, he said.
The Forest Service also hopes to reduce problems by circulating winter recreation maps and posting signs at trailheads outlining snowmobile boundaries, Vance said. In some cases, he said, Forest Service officials will be on hand at trailheads to explain the rules."We certainly hopeful we're moving toward an era when the groups can work together," Vance said.