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Kaniksu over-snow decision announced

by DAILY BEE STAFF
| August 1, 2023 1:00 AM

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests has issued a final environmental assessment, finding of no significant impact, and draft decision notice for the Kaniksu Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation Project.

A 45-day objection period kicked off July 14 in which those who have previously submitted written comments can file an objection to the draft decision, if they choose.

The "Kaniksu Over-snow Vehicle Travel Plan," as it's called, proposes a system of designated routes and riding areas for over-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles. The project area includes the Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and Priest Lake ranger districts — often referred to as the Kaniksu Unit of the IPNF.

As part of the planning effort, IPNF officials said a collaborative group, facilitated by the National Forest Foundation and made up of representatives from diverse, interested parties, Tribes and government agencies, met in 2022 to develop an initial set of recommendations.

The Forest Service gathered public input on an initial proposal during a scoping comment period from Aug. 16, 2022, to Sept. 15, 2022. Comments were again accepted during a draft environmental assessment period from March 22, 2023, to April 21, 2023. The documents have been updated to address comments received during these comment periods.

“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,” Sandpoint District Ranger Jessie Berner said. “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.”

Travel management 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 national policy for the management of snowmobiles in 2015.

Specifically, 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, and

• conflicts among different classes of motorized vehicle uses.

The Kaniksu Project area includes more than 1,046,000 acres of National Forest System lands and offers some of the most sought-after over-snow vehicle recreational opportunities in Idaho.

Once finalized, the Kaniksu Project will designate trails and areas within the project area that are closed or open to over-snow vehicles year-long and seasonally, and these designations will be displayed on an Over-Snow Vehicle Use Map.

During the objection period, which ends Aug. 28, the Forest Service will accept objections from those who submitted specific written comments during the scoping or the draft environmental assessment public comment periods.

That input will be used to help shape the final decision and the future of over-snow vehicle use in the Kaniksu area, officials said.

Information: bit.ly/3m0OIiX