A district court judge has affirmed the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to limit activity in areas recommended for wilderness designation.

The Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai national forests adopted new land and resource management plans in 2015. During the planning process, the Forest Service gathered public input and identified several proposed or “recommended” wilderness areas on the two forests.

There are four recommended wilderness areas on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. They include the Salmo-Priest, Selkirk, Scotchman Peaks, and Mallard-Larkins Roadless Areas. The total acreage of these areas is about 161,400 or a mere 6% of the entire 2.5 million-acre forest.

These areas are off-limits to off-road vehicles and snow machines to protect the wilderness experience.

The 2015 decision to approve these plans was challenged in the District Court of Montana by a collection of snowmobile groups, including the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club, Montanans for Multiple Use, Citizens for Balanced Use, Backcountry Sled Patriots, and the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

The Idaho Conservation League, The Wilderness Society, Headwaters Montana, Montana Wilderness Association, Panhandle Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club, and Winter Wildlands Alliance intervened in the case in support of the Forest Service. Conservation groups were represented by Earth Justice.

Late last week, Judge Dana Christensen affirmed the Forest Service’s authority to recommend areas for congressional wilderness designation and make them off-limits to off-road vehicles and snow machines.

The Idaho Conservation League is pleased with this decision as it helps to protect some of North Idaho’s limited wilderness candidates for the benefit of present and future generations.