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Outdoors blog

Snowmobilers lose court challenge of Panhandle wilderness recommendations

Snowmobiling in North Idaho. (Rich Landers)
Snowmobiling in North Idaho. (Rich Landers)

WILDERNESS -- A federal judge last week upheld protections for some of the last roadless areas of the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana and the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, according to a release from Earthjustice.

A challenge by snowmobilers that sought to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s wilderness recommendations for areas including the Scotchman Peaks and Roderick Mountain in Montana and the Mallard Larkins and Selkirk Range in North Idaho was rejected by U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen in Missoula. 

"The judge ruled that the Forest Service has broad authority to manage recommend wilderness areas to preserve their wilderness values, including through limiting motorized and mechanized use in these wild and remote areas," the release said.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club and other off-road vehicle groups in November 2015 that asked the court to open the protected areas to motorized use," Earthjustice said in the release. 

"The recommended wilderness areas at issue represent some of the last wild areas in the otherwise heavily roaded Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle forests.  These areas provide important habitat for mountain goats, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, wolverines, and a wide variety of other species, including the only remaining population of woodland caribou in the continental United States.  And they provide an opportunity for hiking, horse packing, snowshoeing, and backcountry skiing in a wild setting."

Motorized users were among several national forest user groups that had filed objections to the wilderness recommendations in the Forest Management Plans hammered out by the two forests. Environmentalists also panned the forest plans in 2013.

The conservation coalition defending the recommended wilderness decisions includes The Wilderness Society, Headwaters Montana, Idaho Conservation League, Montana Wilderness Association, Panhandle Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club, and Winter Wildlands Alliance.

“This decision validates longstanding efforts of our members and volunteers to ensure non-motorized, wilderness protection for the most wild and deserving areas of the Kootenai National Forest. This includes lands adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, areas in the Yaak, and Scotchman Peaks,” said Amy Robinson, northwest field director for the Montana Wilderness Association.  “By affirming the Forest Service’s authority to manage recommended wilderness to protect wilderness values, this decision ensures that these areas will maintain the potential for future wilderness designation.”

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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