Dispute centers on wolverines

Backcountry ski operator’s permit renewal stalled

Wolverine habitat could prevent a local company from operating a backcountry ski business in North Idaho’s St. Joe Mountains.

Wolverines are elusive carnivores that look like small bears. They build their winter dens under downed logs on snowy ridgetops – the same type of high-elevation terrain that’s attractive to Peak Adventures.

The company takes clients by tracked vehicle to the Rochet Divide in the St. Joe Mountains for backcountry skiing. Last year, Colorado residents Carey and Ryan Stanley purchased Peak Adventures from longtime owners Steve and Terri Matthews, of Cataldo, Idaho.

The Stanleys hoped to renew a permit to operate on 13,000 acres of public land in the St. Joe Mountains. But U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials say they can’t make a permit decision until an environmental analysis is done.

It’s a frustrating situation, said Carey Stanley; she and her husband recently spent $90,000 on a new tracked vehicle.

“We invested our life savings into this,” she said. “We feel like we were in some sense raked by the government.”

Stephanie Snook, a BLM spokeswoman, said agency officials understand that the Stanleys are running a business, and need an answer as quickly as possible.

However, the agency also must determine if a commercial backcountry skiing operation would be a compatible use, she said. “They drive along the ridgeline and drop off skiers,” Snook said. “We know that wolverines use that area.”

Wolverines, which are rarely seen, are classified as a “sensitive species” by the BLM. The agency’s planning documents prohibit commercial activities near wolverine dens or potential den sites, Snook said.

The Stanleys point out that Peak Adventures’ previous owners operated in the St. Joe Mountains for 17 years. Carey Stanley said her husband met with BLM officials before the couple purchased Peak Adventures and discussed the wolverine issue. Based on those meetings, the couple felt confident about sinking their savings into the company, she said.

“We felt there was a lot of potential in North Idaho,” Carey Stanley said. “It’s pretty unexplored and pretty remote. And it’s coming up (nationally) on skiers’ radar.”

Snook said the expiration of the old permit triggered a review to see if the commercial use remained compatible with land management objectives adopted in 2007.

In their permit application, the Stanleys asked for permission to drive their tracked vehicles off established roads, which also needed analysis, Snook said. In addition, the BLM had acquired more land in the area since the last permit was granted.

“The wolverine issue is not a new issue,” Snook said. “It’s been an issue since 1995, when Peak Adventures’ (previous owners) wanted to run a heli-skiing operation.”

BLM turned down that request.

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