A group of snowmobilers, conservationists, guides, hunters, and other community members recently gave a thumbs up to a proposed winter recreation plan that, if approved, would affect about 1 million acres of national forest lands in the Idaho Panhandle.

The Forest Service hopes to complete a winter recreation or travel management plan for the Kaniksu National Forest, which includes the Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, and Priest Lake Ranger Districts. View a map of the proposed Kaniksu Winter Travel Management Plan here. The purpose of the planning process is to strike a balance between the demand for snowmobile and backcountry skiing opportunities and the needs of wildlife.

A group of stakeholders was formed to identify areas of common ground and aid the Forest Service with the process. The group almost unanimously agreed to a proposed winter travel plan in June. Under the proposal:

  • About 120,000 acres of Forest Service lands would be open all winter to snowmobile use.
  • Another 670,000 acres would be open to snowmobile use until April 1st. Snowmobile use would be limited to designated roads and trails in these areas after April 1st to minimize impacts on grizzly bears.
  • Another 257,000 acres would be closed to snowmobile use all winter in order to provide opportunities for backcountry skiing and secure areas for wolverine, lynx, mountain goat, elk, and caribou (if caribou are ever reintroduced to the Selkirk Mountains).

Although the Forest Service made some minor changes to the proposal, the agency is accepting public comments on a plan that closely resembles the one drafted by community stakeholders. Please take a few minutes to visit the Forest Service’s website and comment in favor of the proposal. Here is some suggested content for your comments:

  • I support the proposed winter travel plan drafted by the North Idaho Working Group. I believe that this plan strikes an appropriate balance between the demand for winter recreation opportunities on the Kaniksu National Forest and the needs of wildlife.
  • Some areas should be closed yearlong to protect wildlife species that are impacted by wildlife, such as wolverine, lynx, mountain goat, and caribou.
  • Snowmobiling should be limited to designated roads and trails on national forest lands north of Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille and Clark Fork Rivers after April 1st in order to minimize impacts to grizzly bears, which come out of hibernation at that time.
  • The Forest Service should also develop strategies for implementation and enforcement of the plan or it won’t be worth the paper that it is printed on. If snowmobilers do not comply with the plan, their use will negatively affect wildlife.

Comments are due no later than September 15th, 2022.