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Snowmobilers leading by example

Jan 24, 2014 - By Chris Peck

A friend of mine from Seattle is coming to Wyoming soon -- to go snowmobiling.

He's not what you would think of as a typical snow machine guy.

He's more yoga and snowshoes than Arctic Cat and camouflage.

But the lure of Wyoming in winter got his attention.

Even though he worries about his carbon footprint and frets over diminishing wildlife habitat, he's booked the trip.

That says something about how things change.

Gone are the days when snow machines were viewed as enemies of the environment and the human ear.

Back in the 1960s, when the snowmobile first became widely available to the public, the noise they put out was akin to a Rolling Stones concert. Loud. Snow machine riders often were portrayed as environmental outlaws who ran roughshod over fragile lands and creatures.

Today, noise levels for snowmobiles have been reduced more than 90 percent. A new snowmobile today makes less racket than an electric shaver.

And, leaders in the snowmobile world have recognized the value of working and playing well with others.

"We understand that we've got to share the land and that we've all got to get along,'' explained Bill Miller of Cody, president of the Wyoming State Snowmobiling Association. "Snowmobilers have an extreme love of the outdoors. Our goal is to preserve that for ourselves and others.''

What a refreshing attitude.

And it explains, to a significant degree, why snowmobiling has largely dropped off the radar as an environmental evil.

These days, snowmobilers are leading by example to show the value of working with people who may not share every last ounce of their world view.

The recent negotiations over the next Shoshone National Forest Management Plan offers up an example of how the concept of working and playing well with those who think differently can trump the often divisive political battles we see coming out of Washington.

In Wyoming, the new Shoshone National Forest Plan is now ready for a final 60-day review by all parties what an interest in the 2.4 million acres of the nation's oldest national forest.

So far, people with very different interests and perspectives are saying good things about the plan.

"We're really lucky to have a forest in Wyoming that is managed well, said Kathy Purves of Wyoming's Trough Unlimited in a recent news story.

Bert Miller of the snowmobile association largely agrees.

"All in all, we're happy with the plan. We've very satisfied with the response of the Shoshone forest team,'' he said.

Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander gets much of the credit for patiently working through the results of 75 public meetings where people all along the political and environmental spectrum spoke about their desires for the forest.

In the end, the plan came together, and the people who participated in the planned are seemingly able to live with the result. The Shoshone National Forest will make room for snowmobiling, while still staying a largely wilderness designated forest. In short, the people who care about the forest found a balance, a compromise, a plan they could live with and that others could life with as well.

Not every battle, controversy or plan needs to break apart. Sometimes, things get worked out.

The snowmobiling devotees in Wyoming understand that for the most part.

And that's a big reason my buddy is coming to the state in a few days to zoom around on the snow.

My friend could easily have protested or just stayed away if the buzz about snowmobiling was still negative and dark.

Instead, he's part of the 49 percent out-of-state snowmobile tourism crowd that will generate as much as $100 million for Wyoming this year.

He'll be coming to a state that once again as proven that you can work things out if you listen, and walk in the other person's shoes, and try to find the solution and not just keep pointing out the problem.

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