For Immediate Release: November 6, 2006
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
SPOKANE – Snowmobile enthusiasts are optimistically awaiting the onset of another winter in North Idaho. These sentiments follow the latest proceedings in ongoing litigation challenging federal agency analysis of snowmobile impacts on an endangered population of woodland caribou located primarily in Canada but occasionally wandering southward into extreme North Idaho and Northeast Washington. The U.S. Forest Service, snowmobile advocates and environmental plaintiffs today appeared before Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert Whaley and presented varied positions regarding the trails and areas which should be available for snowmobile riding and trail grooming for the coming winter season. Even the most restrictive scheme presented to the Court would allow world-renowned on- and off-trail sledding in North Idaho destinations near Priest Lake and within the Southern Selkirk Mountains.
The latest presentations came in response to the Court’s September 22, 2006 ruling 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.
“Any outcome within the range of options presented today will result in significant and unique riding opportunities for the upcoming winter season,” said Craig Hill, a Priest Lake representative for some of the snowmobile groups. “Whether it be through groomed trail riding to scenic destinations like Granite Falls, backcountry riding near McCormick Ridge or on the State of Idaho Priest Lake Forest lands, it appears that many treasured snowmobiling opportunities will continue to be available.”
The Court’s 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, but under the uniquely difficult circumstances of this case we are pleased by the options presented to the Court,” 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.