From one sled patriot to another.

Backcountry Sled Patriots - backcountry snowmobilingIn response to the Missoulian editorial, Tue. July 7/15 “National support for Great Burn Wilderness” which raises the question ”How can it be that such a simple, straightforward, popular, and nonpartisan idea has made no progress”. The short answer is it is most Montanans do not want more back country designated as wilderness. They will , and do, support alternative designations such as National Protection Areas (NPA). The difference between the two is not particularly discernible in terms of keeping primitive areas, well… primitive.

People who abhor any motorized use in the back country seek a wilderness designation to fall under the umbrella of the 1964 Wilderness Act which generally prohibits any mechanized use.  An NPA can be drafted site specific. It can allow motorized use in specific areas, or exclude it, as an example of how  a coalition of back country users can structure the plan to satisfy more than one user group and still retain the primitive characteristics of a particular area such as the Great Burn.  

Here is the rub with a wilderness designation: it only satisfies one specific user group. It expands restricted access for the benefit of hiking and back packing while eliminating access that has been  historically used by some motorized users causing no degradation of the primitive characteristics. (eg) The Forest Service decided in the2012 Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan that snowmobiling needed to be eliminated even though snowmobiles can only access about 15 percent of the Great Burn RWA in the Clearwater NF and have been doing so since the 1970’s. The Lolo NF Forest Plan even provides a corridor access through its RWA to allow snowmobiles into the Clearwater NF side. The FS could not point to any ecological harm from snowmobile activity (tracks are gone in the spring) nor could it determine any winter user or wildlife conflicts. So why eliminate snowmobile access? The summer users want it to be a quiet area regardless if they never access it in the winter. That decision was challenged in court and  an interim pending settlement was reached by all parties.

Backcountry Sled Patriots - backcountry snowmobilingThis is why the” simple, straightforward, popular and nonpartisan idea” has not made any progress. It will not pass muster in Congress. The American people want an alternative to the restrictive single user  Wilderness designation.   Each State Congressional delegation is elected by the residents of that State. If moreWilderness, as defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act, were a well supported  concept, members of Congress would be “chomping at the bit” to sponsor it. They are elected to represent the interests of the voters, not the other way around.  It seems to the writer that the crux of the problem is the definition and treatment of wilderness needs to move from 1964  to reflect the current needs of all Americans in 2015 going forward.

I am a snowmobiler, back country downhill skier and a hunter. I cherish the back country for the scenery, challenge, and solitude. THESES ARE VALUES SHARED BY NON MOTORIZED USERS.  I have seen a tag line from a wilderness group that says “keep it wild”  I like that. There are Congressionally sanctioned alternatives to an uncompromising ” Wilderness” designation that will build National support to preserve the Great Burn and still keep it wild .


Message from our President

Approximately three years ago Backcountry Sled Patriots was formed. We have gone from three members (founding directors) to approximately 1000 members today. Our facebook page has had a reach up to 8000 people.

Backcountry Sled Patriots (BSP) was formed to get the Montana back country snowmobiler segment united in efforts to keep primitive riding areas open. This segment of riders may belong to local Snowmobile clubs or State Associations or perhaps not belong to any group. It seemed to me that the very riders that were losing their preferred riding areas were not very well united and/or supported in their efforts to defending them. The goal of BSP is to bring these back country riders into a cohesive group to understand and become engaged in land closure actions. Consistent with that ideal, establishing a central legal fund to finance legal challenges, if necessary, is core to our success. In the past, insufficient funding, in many cases, to finance a legal challenge has been a huge deterrent to snowmobilers standing up to land closure actions.

Awareness, unification, and funding were the initial goals of BSP but one more element has come into play: PEOPLE . We have been very fortunate that a number of BSP members have diverse education and backgrounds in plant, water and wildlife biology plus various other land use disciplines. This group is complimented by many of our directors who have extensive varied business backgrounds. An unanticipated consequence to having such a well rounded group in one organization has been requests for guidance and collaborative assistance on several Forest Planning reviews and proposed land legislation before Congress.

BSP looks at litigation as a last resort to defending a land closure action. We would prefer to seek a solution satisfactory to all parties. We will financially and strategically support a legitimate legal action to keep back country riding areas open. We are an all volunteer 501 C 3 non- profit corporation .

We lean very heavily on donations and merchandise sales to build our legal fund. The end result of your donation and/or purchase will help the whole snowmobile community.

Over the past two years we have travelled thousands of miles and spent hundreds of hours to attend: Forest Service planning meetings, strategy meetings with groups concerned about legislation changes that would close backcountry areas and snowmobile club events. We are starting to see tangible results from our efforts and from other organizations we support. The Kootenai Forest dropped all new Recommended Wilderness from its Forest Plan Review. ISSA and the Forest Service reached an out of court settlement on the Clearwater NF Travel Plan (still waiting for court approval as of Jan 20, 2014), and the Clearwater NF Forest Plan review is considering Special Management areas for snowmobiling within the Great Burn RWA.

Your support and donations will fuel our efforts going forward. Together we can make it happen. KEEP IT OPEN !

Stan Spencer,
Backcountry Sled Patriots, President


Are "Environmentalists" responsible for closing our riding areas?

At a recent Backcountry Sled Patriots' directors meeting one of the directors pointed out that we should be more specific in how we describe those who work at closing snowmobile areas.

The dictionary describes environmentalists: one working to solve environmental problems. The people who want to shut down the back country to snowmobiling are not doing it because of environmental issues that need to be addressed. They simply don’t want us in their perceived personal recreational space….even though it is public land. I think it may be more fitting to refer to them as “wilderness advocates”…. to keep it polite.

When you stop to think about it, snowmobilers are environmentalists in some manner. We pack out our garbage including the occasional broken hood. We don’t harass wildlife. We certainly don’t cause any environmental damage. There is no sign of our activity after the snow melts. A lot of us hunt, fish, backpack, and recreate in the back country in the summer. It is in our best interest to preserve these back country areas for shared use.

Because we all have an interest in protecting the environment, we have to be careful not to inadvertently label one group as the only protector of the primitive back country. We have our notion of what constitutes an environmentalist. However when we are trying to engage the public in our efforts to keep back country open I suspect in many cases that we may come across as people who have little or no respect for the environment. There are a lot of good people out there that want a clean and healthy environment that don’t support a need for more wilderness areas. On the other hand if we are hissing and moaning about the “bad environmentalists” we may be inadvertently losing the support from these same people. We need to become more articulate in our choice of words. We need perception and reality to become one.

We can call these people: anti motorized, favored 1% who access wilderness designated areas, or just about anything that accurately describes their angst about snowmobiling but I think simply encompassing them under the environmentalist umbrella may be” shooting ourselves in the foot”.

Stan Spencer


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