The Idaho Panhandle National Forests recently convened a group of community stakeholders to help draft a plan for winter recreation on the Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Priest Lake Ranger Districts. The group includes snowmobilers, backcountry skiers, outfitters and guides, hunters and conservation groups.
Each national forest is required by law to have a winter recreation or “travel management plan” in effect in locations where winter snow cover is sufficient to support snowmobile use during the winter months.
In fact, in 2005, the Idaho Conservation League, Lands Council, Selkirk Conservation Alliance, and Defenders of Wildlife took the Idaho Panhandle National Forests to court for allowing snowmobile use in the Selkirk Mountains without a winter travel management plan. In that case, the judge ordered the closure of 250,000 acres of national forest lands in the Selkirks until the Forest Service adopts a winter travel plan that balances the needs of wildlife and the winter recreational use of those lands.
The approval of a winter travel management plan for the Selkirks hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons, but since the 2005 lawsuit, the Forest Service recognized the need to include the nearby Purcell and Cabinet Mountain Ranges in the planning process.
ICL is actively participating in the community stakeholder meetings. The group is meeting once a month and hopes to deliver recommendations to the Forest Service by June, including which areas should be open for snowmobile use and which areas should be closed to provide non-motorized winter recreation opportunities or to protect wildlife.
The Forest Service will invite public comments on a proposed winter travel management plan sometime before the end of 2022. Comments will be used to refine the proposal and inform that environmental assessment.
Stay tuned for opportunities to provide your input.
The Forest Service hopes to make a final decision on the plan by the end of 2023.