Blaine County ORV enthusiasts blame wolves to prevent BLM closures in wintering habitat

Off-road ‘enthusiasts’ (snowmobiles) expressed their disdain for a “Blaine County Cooperative Conservation Recreation and Travel Plan” which would close BLM and state big game wintering habitat to both motorized and non-motorized recreationists on either side of the Wood River Valley “only when harsh winter conditions warrant.”

Motorized users express outrage over BLM travel plan
Snowmobiles don’t harm wintering big game, they claim :

On Wednesday, many of these speakers said the only negative impact on wintering deer and elk is the area’s growing gray wolf population. They claimed snowmobiles do not harm deer or elk in any way.

This ‘wolves as whipping-boy’ phenomenon is growing.

I’ve got extended family in West Yellowstone that compelled me to write this personal anecdotal account of snowmobiles’ general affect on me last year. Whatever a person’s take on snowmachines is, to say that they don’t disturb wildlife is … less than honest …




  1. Josh Avatar

    There has actually been quite a bit of research done on the impact of snowmobiles on wildlife and humans alike. Wildlands CPR, an environmental policy center that concentrates on off-road vehicle and restoration policy, has some good material on the topic.

    The Influence of Snowmobile Emissions on Air Quality and Human Health:

    The Impacts of Snowmobiling and Cross-Country Skiing on Ungulates

    The Legal Status of Snowmobiles and their Effects on Bison in Yellowstone National Park (policy is outdated, but science is the same)

  2. TPageCO Avatar

    As a recent Blaine County transplant, I’m guilty of not getting my comments in yet, but maybe I’ll draft them out here…sort of.

    There are lots of elk in Blaine County, and very few wintering deer. As far as I can tell, tag numbers and winter counts for these units have gone up or stayed the same. These elk are scattered up and down the Wood River Valley, and they are subject to disturbance of all kinds, not just sleds. Haven’t seen any wolf sign this winter when out looking (carefully) at elk. The elk are much more affected by cars, careless dog owners, snowmobiles and just plain stupid people who walk right up on ’em in deep snow to take pictures (I’ve seen this twice already in the last month).

    Much of the country subject to the closures is really hammered by ATV trails and it’s very open. I suspect this is why some of these people say they never see elk b/c the wolves ate ’em. No security means no elk. After one summer spent scouting, I pretty much crossed out all this country on the map as far as where I wanted to hunt in the fall. There’s also zero trail enforcement and when I went to the Shoshone BLM office to ask about the plan, they indicated that it was “the county’s plan” and they didn’t really have anything to do with it. Makes you wonder about future enforcement, regardless of what the final plan looks like.

    Blaine County has seen rapid growth over the last fifteen years. 25 years ago, a few sleds didn’t really make much difference. The problem is the same one that exists in much of the west – there’s little willingness to change the “it’s public land so I can do whatever I darn well please, just like I’ve been doing for the last twenty years” attitude that is ingrained in almost every recreationist, motorized or not. The ATV /sled crowd just screams louder about it than everybody else.

    My previous home county faced many of these same issues over the past two decades, and the results fell in favor of recreation EVERY TIME. It’s not going to be different here in a county that is becoming more dependent on recreation/tourism/home construction every year. Also, public lands are always going to be managed under a “lowest common denominator” mandate. Open rolling hills like the BLM ground included in the plan are going to continue to take a beating until the enforcement orders and funding come down from on high. That’s why the best approach the county can take in the meantime is to support private land conservation that encompasses big game habitat through good regulations and and the development of local and state government funding sources. Also, the county can encourage private landowners to post and close their lands to vehicle use, as much of the BLM country has private parcels mixed in. With Idaho’s weak trespass laws, it’s a free-for-all during the fall now.

    Ralph – regarding your “wolves as whipping-boy” comment: All the more reason to turn wolves over to the state – when wolf numbers drop and these issues don’t go away, the feds and their voracious wolves won’t be there to provide a convenient scapegoat.

  3. TPageCO Avatar

    Sorry Ralph, I just noticed that you didn’t post this one…

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Brian Ertz