A winter recreation plan for the Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, and Priest Lake Ranger Districts is one step closer to being finalized. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest recently published a draft Environmental Assessment for the Kaniksu Winter Travel Plan.

The Forest Service is considering two different alternatives. The “Proposed Action” is an alternative that was crafted by a group of snowmobilers, conservation groups, outfitters, guides, hunters, and county officials that worked for several months to reach a compromise that strikes a balance between the demand for winter recreation opportunities and the needs of wildlife.

The Proposed Action calls for 267,000 acres of Forest Service lands to be closed to over-snow vehicles (OSVs) all winter to protect caribou, wolverine, lynx, big game winter range, proposed wilderness, and backcountry skiing opportunities. Another 624,000 acres would be open to OSVs until April 1st. At that time, OSV use would be limited to designated routes to protect grizzly bears emerging from hibernation. Approximately 151,000 acres would be open to OSV use all winter.

“Alternative A” is the second option the Forest Service is considering. Alternative A is less protective of wildlife because more acres would be open to OSV use, particularly after April 1st. This is problematic because grizzly bears emerge from hibernation around April 1st, and with more acres open after that date, it would increase impacts to grizzlies.

While it is ultimately up to the Forest Service to make a decision on the final winter travel plan, we are optimistic that the agency will either approve the Proposed Action or something similar. The Proposed Action continues to enjoy broad support from the diverse group that crafted it. A final decision is expected before the end of the year.