In the summer of 2014, an Oregon snowmobile club got the go ahead to do trail maintenance in the National Forest.  Unfortunately, the leader of the club didn’t read the whole permit.

That was his first mistake.

The club rented equipment, paid for in part by monies from the gas tax snowmobilers and the rest of us, people like me, pay, and went to work, without direct Forest Service oversight.  That was the second mistake.  The result was an environmental mess over 31 miles of trails.  Trees were knocked over with roots pulled up, culverts destroyed, dirt, brush, rocks and trees shoveled on to roads, damage estimated at well over $250,000.  The Club is getting off scot-free, because it was unintended damage.  Bull.  They never told the Forest Service what they had done. I’d bet money that they intended to do exactly what they did.  They knocked over culverts.  That is not trail maintenance.  They piled refuse in a road.  That is not trail maintenance. The Oregon State Snowmobiling Association (OSSA) states that their volunteer program is a national “model.”  Some model.  Two years earlier, the same club pushed over trees at a Sno-Tel park. This is a trend. I blame the Forest Service for lack of oversight, but bad apples reflect on snowmobilers.  OSSA should be appalled.  The club ought to be disbanded.

If OSSA wants a national model for volunteer work, they should talk to my friends Erv and Sandra who work all over the West every year as volunteers.  They are a model.

The land scars were first felt to be due to rogue logging, until “trail maintenance” was remembered.  OSSA says land in Oregon is being “locked up as wilderness,” when there are 6000 miles of snowmobile trails in the state and Oregon ranks ninth among eleven western states in acreage devoted to wilderness. We have less wilderness as a percentage than Idaho.  Do we have to have loud and polluting machines everywhere?  I don’t care that noise abatement has improved, the machines are loud, and some of us go into the woods to get away from all manmade noise. I don’t care that pollution has improved, it is still pollution, and the fact air quality has never been affected by snowmobiles is due to a different definition of air quality that is not relevant to the woods.  People have a right to snowmobile—responsibly.  I have a right to untrammeled wilderness, and my right is not less than theirs.

For the record, I am an average volunteer who occasionally does trail maintenance in Eugene, where it is very clear what we can and cannot do.  We work closely with the Parks and Outdoor Spaces to plant trees, channel water, clean off bridges, and whatever they ask us to do.  We save them money by our presence.  They do not give us motorized vehicles to use.  They do give us detailed instructions, which our leader reads.   Every word.

The central Oregon group did not. They took a lot of money to damage an area that can never be fully restored.  Congressman Greg Walden said that we didn’t have resources at a national level to do all the trail maintenance that needed to be done.

Greg, you are dead wrong.  We have plenty of resources, but your party stands in the way of anything that smacks of stewardship for the land.  I’d bet money on it.  The Forest Service in 2012 had a backlog of $314 million plus $200 million for annual upkeep.  Don’t give me the “we don’t have the money” bit.  We have the money to throw at contractors in war zones, we just don’t think those who are stewards of our land are worth much. By the way, if we spent money hiring enough people with good equipment, we could have a Forest Service that really “cares for the land and serves people.”  It would create JOBS, Greg, although not paying what you make.  I’ve volunteered with the Forest Service.  Perhaps you should, too, Greg.  Legislate mandatory national service that includes trail maintenance, fund the Forest Service adequately to supervise these people, and we’d have better trails and less unemployment.  Your job is only 116 days a year.  Work a bit more, will you?  Do something for the country, for once. Stop getting in the way, stop voting in a bloc, and heed the late Paul Wellstone’s words:  “Politics isn’t about big money or power games; it’s about the improvement of people’s lives.”  Grow a spine.

No, I don’t think the snowmobile club members should go to jail, despite their destroying a lot of MY land by renting 15 ton equipment and having a good time knocking down trees and widening trails.  Do I know they were having a good time?  No, I don’t.  But I would bet money they were partying out there, drinking, making snide comments about environmentalists and the Forest Service, while they were destroying part of the United States.  Yes, I would bet money on it.

I’d demand that they pay for the damage.  Sell their snowmobiles, their trucks and their trailers, if they have to.   As it stands now, the Forest Service has asked the clubs involved to pay $35,000.  Asked.  I’d bet money that’s pocket change.  If they didn’t pony up, I’d saddle OSSA for the whole damn thing.  They have the money.  After all, they brag on their Web page how snowmobiling requires more outlay for equipment rather than $100-$200 for other uses—you know, like cross country skiing or snowshoeing, where people have to actually expend some effort.  I’ve taken people on Cascade hikes and waived the $5 fee for a non-member, along with the gas charge for our carpooling.  Their toys pollute air with noise and fumes, their users violate private property and scare animals, and yes, I hold them responsible for the actions of a few.  That’s the way of my world.  Clean up voluntarily or through regulation.  Take your pick.

I’ve seen good trail maintenance by the Disciples of Dirt mountain bikers on the Larison Rock trail.  They cut erosion and made the trail suitable for both mountain bikes and hikers.  I’ve seen what the High Cascade Forest Volunteers can do clearing downed trees on Maxwell Butte in early season.

Snowmobilers have a right to use the woods. I wonder if they feel I have a right to go into quiet wilderness, where there are no machines and a person has to do all the work.

They didn’t have the right to destroy the forest.  If a liberal environmentalist did one-thousandth the damage the snowmobile club did (that would be trashing 160 feet of trail), it would be on national news, Rush Limbaugh would have apoplexy, and the Republicans would vote to ban the Sierra Club.

I’d bet money on it.

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