Many snowmobile enthusiasts in Montana are cheering bills currently making their way through both the House and Senate. President of the snowmobile group Backcountry Sled Patriots, Stan Spencer says the debate is over Wilderness Study Areas, some of which are quite close to home.

"We're being shut out in all of the new forest plans right now, clear across Western Montana in any these study areas," Spencer said. "The most prominent one would be the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area which would be, if you took a line between Hamilton and Phillipsburg, that would be kind-of the general area it lies in and it lies between two forests, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and the Bitterroot National Forest

According to Spencer, the areas have been under “study” for decades, but the rules have changed.

"In 1977 when the Montana Wilderness Study Act was introduced, it allowed for existing uses to continue, but through the years, the Forest Service has expanded or enhanced what is called 'Wilderness Character,' Spencer said. "Bottom-line, what 'enhancement' means is 'no-motorized vehicles' so the Forest Service was able to step beyond what was intended by congress."

The legislation that would allow multiple-use in Wilderness Study Areas has been proposed by Congressman Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines, but still has a ways to go. Spencer says he’s hoping for a compromise and that the legislature will stop “straddling the fence.”

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