Forest Service issues draft decision on over-snow vehicles in N. Idaho ranger districts

By Reader Staff

Officials with the Idaho Panhandle National Forests have issued a final environmental assessment, a finding of “no significant impact” and draft decision for the Kaniksu OSV Use Designation Project, which opens certain areas to “over-snow vehicles” such as snowmobiles in the Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and Priest Lake Ranger districts.

The project proposes a system of over-snow vehicle routes and riding areas — along with seasons of use for motor vehicles that travel over snow on tracks or skis — on an area encompassing more than 1 million acres of National Forest System lands, which offer “some of the most sought-after over-snow vehicle recreational opportunities in Idaho,” according to IPNF.

Planning for the project began with gathering public input in August 2022 and proceeded with a draft environmental assessment public comment period in March and April 2023, bringing together a group facilitated by the National Forest Foundation and representatives from various interested parties, tribes, and government agencies.

Planning is undertaken in accordance with the 2005 federal Travel Management Rule, which requires all national forests and grasslands to develop a system of roads, trails and areas for motorized travel. The rule was later expanded to include snowmobiles and other “over-snow vehicles.” The Forest Service finalized a national policy for the management  of snowmobiles in 2015. 

The Travel Management Rule requires the Forest Service to designate over-snow vehicle routes to minimize: 

• damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources; 

• harassment of wildlife and disruption of wildlife habitats;

• conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of National Forest System land or neighboring federal lands;

• conflicts among different classes of motorized vehicle uses. 

Once finalized, the Kaniksu Project will designate trails and areas within the project area that  are closed or open to over-snow vehicles both year-round and seasonally, with those designations displayed on an over-snow vehicle use map. 

A 45-day objection period is open through Monday, Aug. 28, in which those who previously submitted written comments may file an objection to the draft decision.  

The Forest Service will accept objections from those who submitted specific written comments regarding the proposed project during the scoping comment period or the draft environmental assessment public comment period. Input gathered during the objection period will be used to inform the final decision and the future of over-snow vehicle use in the Kaniksu area.   

“We want to thank everyone who submitted comments when we initially shared the project with  the public, and again when we shared the draft environmental assessment this spring,” stated   Sandpoint District Ranger Jessie Berner. “The Forest Service has reviewed those comments and used them to improve the project and issue a draft decision under the National Environmental Policy Act.” 

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