More of North Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains is being put off-limits to snowmobilers in order to protect endangered caribou.
The animals run from the noisy machines even before the snowmobilers are aware of their presence, say biologists who track them from the air.
“We don’t believe snowmobilers are out there deliberately harassing caribou,” Allen Chrisman of the Bonners Ferry Ranger District said Monday.
About 50 woodland caribou live in the Selkirk Mountains, which straddle the border between the United States and Canada.
The herd got national attention in the late 1980s, when additional caribou were trapped in other British Columbia mountain ranges and transplanted into Idaho.
Last March, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests banned snowmobiles from about 15 square miles to the south of Myrtle Lake, mostly in the Bonners Ferry district.
Today, forest supervisor David Wright will sign an order expanding that to 22 square miles.
The expansion was prompted by the sighting of caribou early this winter near Chimney Rock, which lies to the south.
The area contains critical supplies of lichen, the caribou’s winter food.
Using extra energy to run from snowmobiles can threaten the animals’ lives, according to biologists.
Several spokesmen for local snowmobilers were out riding their machines Monday, and couldn’t be reached for comment about the closure.
Forest Service officials acknowledged that snowmobilers aren’t happy about the restriction.
But they emphasized that it affects only a few skilled riders who travel in high terrain.
“No groomed or marked trails are affected, and no roads are located within the restricted area,” said Greg Hetzler, recreation forester in Sandpoint.
“There are still many other snowmobiling areas in the Selkirks that remain open, such as Snow Creek, Bottleneck Lake, Roman Nose, Apache Ridge and McCormick Ridge,” Hetzler added.
Maps of the closed area are available at both the Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint ranger district offices.