Court Reopens North Idaho Snowmobiling Trails and Terrain
Blue Ribbon Coalition Release
Nov. 7, 2006
SPOKANE, WA - Snowmobile enthusiasts are cheering a new Court ruling and are optimistically awaiting the onset of another winter in North Idaho. Earlier today Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley issued an Order modifying the Court's prior snowmobiling restrictions, which effectively reopens popular snowmobile trails and backcountry riding areas.
The Court's review occurs within an ongoing lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging federal agency analysis of snowmobile impacts on an endangered population of woodland caribou. That population, numbering approximately 35 animals, is located primarily in Canada with individuals occasionally wandering southward into extreme North Idaho and Northeast Washington. On September 22, 2006 the Court issued an order interpreting the Endangered Species Act which prohibited snowmobiling in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest Caribou Recovery Area. The Order called for further proceedings to refine the scope of snowmobile restrictions, and directed the parties to work towards an agreement. The snowmobile and environmental groups presented a joint proposal for relief, while the U.S. Forest Service proposal called for the opening of additional areas and trails for snowmobile access. Today's order acknowledged the joint proposal "appears to be the product of difficult negotiation" but found the Forest Service's proposal "best encompasses the goals and protections of the Endangered Species Act and is the most narrowly tailored in scope to achieve them."
"We are thrilled with this outcome, which provides for significant and unique riding opportunities for the upcoming winter season," said Craig Hill, a Priest Lake representative for some of the snowmobile groups. "While we entered our joint proposal in good faith and in the best interests of the snowmobiling public, we obviously prefer the Forest Service's proposal and are encouraged by the Court's latest analysis."
The Court's order reauthorizes snowmobile trail grooming on numerous popular routes, including the trail linking the east and west sides of Priest Lake, in the Pack River-Snow Creek area, and riding along the Smith Creek-Cow Creek Trails near Bonners Ferry. The Order further allows off-trail riding in the Roman Nose-McCormick Ridge area and in the popular Trapper Burn area adjacent to State of Idaho lands north of Priest Lake.
The latest Order will likely remain in place until the Idaho Panhandle National Forest develops a winter recreation plan, a process that could take a year or more. "Our work is far from complete, and we will continue to argue for even greater snowmobiling opportunities in the planning process," said John Finney, a representative for Sandpoint area riders.
The snowmobile groups who are parties in the case are the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, Priest Lake Trails/Outdoor Recreation Association, Sandpoint Winter Riders, Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce, American Council of Snowmobile Associations, and the BlueRibbon Coalition. They are represented by Boise attorney Paul A. Turcke.
Paul Turcke, 208-331-1807
John Finney, Sandpoint Winter Riders 208-263-7712
Craig Hill, Priest Lake Trails/Outdoor Recreation Ass'n 208-443-2551
Sandra Mitchell, Idaho State Snowmobile Ass'n, 208-424-3870 or 1-888-342-6976