U.S. Forest Service officials issued citations to seven snowmobilers riding through a non-motorized area near the Montana-Idaho border on March 4. According to multiple sources familiar with the incident, the bust was made possible by monitoring a regional snowmobile discussion forum on the Internet.
“Our law enforcement folks had information [that two snowmobilers] would be going in there to retrieve two broken down sleds on a specific day,” says Lolo National Forest public affairs officer Boyd Hartwig, who did not specify where the information originated. “They had a date and a location of when they expected these guys to be back in there.”
Two snowmobilers rode up the Fish Creek drainage through a motorized-use corridor that passes through the proposed Great Burn wilderness area to Idaho, says Hartwig. But they left the corridor and entered the non-motorized-use Irish Basin to find the broken down snowmobiles. Law enforcement officers issued the men citations, which bring a $150 fine plus a $25 administration fee.
Meanwhile, an assisting Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) helicopter spotted another five snowmobilers in the area and watched them ride into Idaho and stop at Kid Lake, Hartwig says. The helicopter landed and FWP officials issued three citations to riders who did not possess Montana registrations. Hartwig says the helicopter then recorded GPS data of the five snowmobilers’ route, found they also passed through a non-motorized area, and sent them citations through the mail.
Law enforcement officer Clint McGuffey, one of the two officers who issued the citations, says the Lolo National Forest typically writes no more than 15 snowmobile-related tickets a year.
“These seven tickets have been more contentious than any I’ve written lately,” McGuffey says. “[The cited snowmobilers] called me some pretty ugly names, but I guess wearing a green shirt makes you have a pretty thick skin, huh?”