Much of the Stevens Peak Backountry Area has historically been used for quiet human-powered winter recreation, primarily by snowshoers, cross-country skiers and backcountry snowboarding and skiing. Now, the skyrocketing numbers of snowmobile owners riding technologically advanced machines and the popularity of high-marking are causing an increasing conflict between the non-motorized and motorized users.
This conflict is essentially one-sided. Motorized users do not experience the loss of a quality experience or terrain due to the presence of a few skiers or snowshoers. The reciprocal face of this conflict for non-motorized users is the loss of the recreational opportunity and terrain that occurs when snowmobilers ride in an area. Backcountry skiers and snowboarders generally avoid touring in and riding in an area that has been used by a few high-markers. It is not safe for skiers or snowboarders to take a run down a slope that has been used by snowmobiles. It is a winner-take-all situation for the snowmobile users, while the non-motorized users lose everything!
We believe that there needs to be a balance. Let’s put things into perspective: the majority of the 2.5 million acre Idaho Panhandle National Forest is available for snowmobile use during the winter, while the proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized Recreation Area only comprises approximately 6,500 acres. Snowmobilers can travel 100 miles on a tank of gas while 2 miles of trailbreaking is a good day for a backcountry skier. We believe that what we are asking for is reasonable and conforms to historic use patterns. However, the terrain being accessed by snowmobiles in the Stevens Peak backcountry is increasing, partly due to more users and partly better access due to clear-cutting on adjacent patented mining claims.
At the present time, neither the Lolo National Forest nor Idaho Panhandle National Forest has taken steps toward creating a Comprehensive Winter Recreation Plan for the Stevens Peak Backcountry Area. Members of the Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance have worked for more than 10 years in an attempt to get the forest service to create such a plan. Currently, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is preparing the release of the DEIS for their Forest Plan Revision. It is important for the plan to address this issue. The Lolo National Forest is a couple of years behind in their Forest Plan Revision process.
On another front, in June of 2011, four members of the Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance met with four leaders from local snowmobile clubs from the Idaho panhandle area and adjacent Montana area to discuss the need for a comprehensive winter recreation plan and proposed winter non-motorized recreation area concept. There was considerable agreement amongst the group about the need for such a plan and the proposed winter non-motorized recreation area between both user groups.
The Forest Service has indicated that if we can work to create an understanding between user groups that they will be more favorably be inclined toward developing a winter recreation plan. This will require our efforts to bring this discussion to a larger audience of motorized users. The proposed expansion of Lookout Pass Ski Area is a point of focus and motivation for such discussions.
We are at a critical point in time. It is important that proponents of non-motorized winter recreation work for the creation of a comprehensive Winter Recreation Plan before difficult to reverse precedents are set and before ski area expansion begins.