Kootenai Winter Travel Plan Update

The Kootenai National Forest is actively seeking public input on its preliminary Proposed Action during a scoping comment period that runs through September 29, 2023.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Cross featuring skier Sam Reinsel

July 31, 2023

The Kootenai National Forest’s preliminary Proposed Action stands out among the Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) plans we have seen so far. Specifically, the Kootenai provided valuable information on how the the proposed OSV designations are strategically located to minimize OSV impacts on wildlife, natural resources, and potential conflicts with other uses.

These “minimization criteria” are at the heart of travel management planning, and we are delighted to see the Kootenai taking these vital considerations into account from the outset. This approach grants us a clearer understanding of the potential impacts of their proposed designations and offers an opportunity to provide feedback not only on the designations themselves but also on the Forest’s overall approach in considering the minimization criteria. Furthermore, it is commendable that the Kootenai is following the winter travel planning template established by national forests in California, where we have been actively involved in OSV planning since 2015, rather than reinventing the process needlessly.

Scope and Proposed Designations

The Kootenai National Forest’s winter travel plan encompasses almost all of the forest, with the exception of the ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area, which has began a separate planning process in 2015. The Ten Lakes plan is currently on hold.

The plan proposes designating 1,257,633 acres, accounting for approximately 59% of the planning area, for cross-country OSV use. From this, approximately 278,000 acres will be open for use between December 1 and March 31, while 979,000 acres will remain accessible from December 1 to May 31. The closure on March 31 is crucial in safeguarding grizzly bears as they emerge from their dens, particularly vulnerable females with cubs.

Furthermore, the Forest Service is evaluating the necessity of additional season dates to ensure adequate snow cover for protecting whitebark pine seedlings and saplings from potential damage.

The preliminary Proposed Action includes designating 642 miles of OSV trails, of which 274 miles are currently groomed and maintained through special use permits with local snowmobile clubs. While the Forest Plan restricts grooming on some trails from December 1 to March 31, many trails could potentially be groomed from December 1 to May 31, subject to funding and snow conditions.

The Forest Service is not proposing to designate OSV use in areas currently closed for cross-country skiing, campgrounds, or in regions deemed not suitable for OSV use in the forest plan. These areas include recommended Wilderness and non-motorized backcountry regions.


To better understand the potential impacts of proposed designations, the Kootenai National Forest has developed a set of screening questions targeting various forest resources.

While the existing questions addressing the minimization criteria are a good starting point, they mainly focus on wildlife and whitebark pine impacts. To ensure a comprehensive assessment, each area and trail should also be screened for potential noise or air pollution impacts, and the Forest Service should diligently consider and minimize any potential use conflicts arising from designated areas or routes.

In particular, it’s essential to ensure that snowmobile area boundaries and designated trails are strategically located to discourage motorized use in non-motorized areas, like the pristine Wilderness regions. Further screening questions should be developed to address these crucial topics.


Overall, the Kootenai National Forest’s proposal and analysis show a strong start in managing winter travel. However, to ensure a thorough evaluation of potential impacts from designations, developing a few additional screening questions is warranted.

Moreover, there are three significant roadless areas, namely the Galena, Barren, and Allen Peak Inventoried Roadless Areas, located adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. These areas play a crucial role in providing vital habitat connectivity for grizzlies, wolverines, fishers, and Canada lynx.

In the Proposed Action, the Forest Service is proposing to designate the majority of these roadless areas for over-snow vehicle use, which we believe is inappropriate considering their invaluable conservation value.

Ensuring Successful Implementation

Finally, it is imperative for the Forest Service to meticulously plan the implementation of the new winter travel plan once it reaches completion. This implementation strategy must encompass essential components such as education, monitoring, and enforcement. To guarantee a seamless execution, these factors should be considered right from the outset of the planning process. Articulating a clear roadmap for achieving each element within the plan itself will be paramount to its success.

Take Action

Scoping comments are due September 29, 2023. The Forest Service has requested commenters submit letters via their online form here. We encourage you to do so if you’re familiar with the Kootenai and would like to draft your own comment letter.

As another option, we will be sending a group letter to the Forest Service. You can review and sign on to this letter by clicking here or on the button below.