Environmentalists take aim at snowmobilers

Yesterday saw the opening legal shots in a long standing dispute between the refuge Napoleon on the Col d’Izoard and the group SOS environment. The court case is in the Gap criminal court. The refuge is being prosecuted unter the French Mountain Law for using a motor vehicle on a highway normally closed to traffic due to snow cover.

stop snowmobiling
Image: Mountain Wilderness Italy

Snowmobiles are covered by this law and can only be used on strictly defined routes laid out by the local council. There are exceptions. In 2003 the Conseil d’Etat (supreme court) modified the law in 2003 to permit goods to be transported to restaurants and refuges and also to allow chalet owners to use vehicles to access their properties. However the refuge Napolean has gone further and used their snowmobile to transport guests. The refuge claims this is a “public service”. Joël Pruvot for SOS Environment wants the current law to be strictly applied in the Hautes-Alpes. His group is a civil party in the case. Another case is due to be heard on the 4th of December involving defendants from Fons de Cervières. The Hautes-Alpes has long been the black sheep for environmentalists with its support of the Croisiere Blanche - a rally on snow involving off-road vehicles.

The French legal system has been getting tough with motor vehicles in natural areas. The criminal division of the Cours de Cassation recently rejected an appeal by a group of twenty off-roaders who were arrested driving in a forest at Pontet on May 29, 2003. The court decided that because the road they were driving on was only accessible to 4x4 vehicles it couldn’t be considred as open to the general public. Furthermore the court said the ban applied to all natural areas whether or not there were signs forbidding motor vehicles. It also found that advertising such activity constituted an offence.

Following a court case brought by the Prefet of the Savoie three commercial snowmobile operations in the Bauges mountains have also been declared illegal by the Grenoble Administrative Court despite support from local mayors. The circuits were in the heart of the Bauges Regional Park. Outdoor enthusiasts had observed that the Park authorities has been active in declaring sensitive areas out of bounds to hikers and skiers but didn’t see the contradiction in allowing snow mobiling.

Further Information

Return of the Snowmobile

Posted by davidof on Friday, 09 November, 2007 at 12:37 AM

The Gap court has found against the refuge Napoleon. You cannot use a snow mobile to transport customers. Justice was swift as neither the defendants nor their lawyers were in court. The defendants had already been fined 1500 euros for the same offence in 2005. SOS Environment had lodge a complaint against the refuge Napoleon’s activities in March 2007. Another factor, advertisements for the refuge mentioned the possibility of transport by snow mobile for guests. Something we highlighted in our article yesterday. The refuge was fined for this infraction as well. However it is not all bad news for the refuge, the 6500 euros in fines were suspended by the court, not quite the severe measures requested by the environmental group.

If you are in the area in the winter months the refuge can be reached, legally, on snow shoes or touring skis. We’ve eaten a very pleasant meal there.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 09 November, 2007  at 08:54 PM

The Briançon court has fined two snowmobilers 200 € each plus 100 € damages for using their snowmobiles to access their chalets on the plaine du Bourget in the Cervières (Hautes-Alpes). This case seems to rule out the exception of using snowmobiles to access personal chalets although we don’t have any further details of this case. It seems to severely curtail their use in the French mountains.

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 08 December, 2007  at 11:56 AM
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