The Clearwater National Forest approved a plan that protects proposed wilderness areas on the forest from the growing use of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles.
There are approximately 200,000 acres of “recommended wilderness areas” on the Clearwater National Forest, including the Idaho side of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness, the south half of the proposed Mallard-Larkins Wilderness, and proposed additions to the north side of the existing Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The plan was originally approved in 2012, but the Idaho State Snowmobile Association subsequently challenged the decision in court. ISSA contended that the Forest Service did not have the authority to restrict off-road vehicles and snowmobiles in recommended wilderness areas.
The Idaho Conservation League, Great Burn Study Group, and The Wilderness Society intervened in the case to block an unfavorable settlement outside of the courtroom. Conservation groups were represented by Earth Justice.
A federal judge recently ruled against ISSA and other snowmobile groups in a similar lawsuit on the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests. In that case, the judge affirmed the Forest Service’s authority to prohibit off-road vehicles and snowmobiles in recommended wilderness areas. The ruling on the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests clearly supports the decision on the Clearwater.
Both outcomes ensure that some of North Idaho’s most remarkable candidates for wilderness will remain available for congressional wilderness designation.