Priest Lake area: snowmobiles no, caribou yes |

Priest Lake area: snowmobiles no, caribou yes

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho ” Snowmobiles are again off limits to the Trapper Burn area in northern Idaho out of concern the machines are harming the lower 48’s last herd of caribou.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley in Spokane, Wash., closed the area to snowmobiles following a three-day hearing. The exact boundaries of the closure were still being worked out.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling,” Laurie Rule, a Boise-based attorney for Advocates For the West, told The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane. “It’s the main corridor that would allow the animals in Idaho to go back and forth to Canada.”

The group represented the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, which has been working to protect caribou habitat in the area.

About 40 caribou are thought to live in the area and across the border in Canada.

Snowmobilers vowed to fight the ruling that closes an area favored by riders for its expanse of treeless powder.

“That will be a major loss,” said Tim Piver, a rider from Deer Park, Wash. “It’s a compromise I’m not willing to step aside for. I have never seen a track from a large game animal in there ever.”

Whaley has been listening to arguments from snowmobilers and conservation groups about the area for several years.

He banned grooming on trails in the area last season, which area businesses said cost them about $1 million. Last September, Whaley banned the machines from about 300,000 acres of federally designated caribou recovery area around Idaho’s Priest Lake.

However, just before snowmobiling season started, he reopened the area.

That caused environmental groups to ask for the latest hearing in which they argued that protecting the migration corridors for caribou, including Trapper Burn, increased the chances of the herds interbreeding and surviving.

“Unless we ensure caribou have unimpeded movement throughout the recovery area, they’re doomed to extinction,” Sprengel said. “Caribou should be given the benefit of the doubt.”

Snowmobile groups say their machines cause less harm to the caribou than logging and predators.

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