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Forest Service could open more snowmobile terrain close to town. But more than 90 miles of trails open to mountain biking could close, because they're now in recommended wilderness

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | January 26, 2022 8:45 AM

The Flathead National Forest has released a two-pronged proposed action that looks to update where snowmobiles and other over the snow motorized vehicles can run in the future, as well as mechanized uses like bicycles and game carts.

The changes come under the 2018 Forest plan, as it has about 190,400 acres of recommended wilderness. Under the plan, some trails could be closed that were once open to mechanical uses like bicycles, because the trails are now in recommended wilderness.

The bulk of those trails — about 82 miles, are in the Tuchuk-Whale Creek areas of the North Fork.

“Specifically, within the 190,403 acres of recommended wilderness areas, about 96 miles of trail currently allow mechanized transport and about 383 acres currently allow over-snow motorized use. There are no open motorized trails or roads or designated over-snow motorized travel routes in these recommended wilderness areas,” the proposed action notes.

On the snowmobile side of things, some areas are suitable for winter motorized use under the 2018 plan, while others are not.

The net effect of all of this means that roughly 9,000 additional acres in the Glacier View District just north of Columbia Falls have been identified as suitable for snowmobiles and other over the snow motorized use.

An additional 258 acres near the Chain Lakes could also be opened as could about 600 acres near Moose Peak in the North Fork.

At Marias Pass and in the Challenge/Skyland area, an additional 1,928 acres could be opened to over the snow motorized use.

Terrain limitations would obviously impact where snowmobiles and snow bikes could actually roam.

Conversely, several areas could be closed to snowmobile and other over the snow motorized use, including the Jewel Basin, the Slippery Bill-Puzzle Creek area, parts of Bunker Creek and the Swan Front and the Limestone-Dean Ridge area near Spotted Bear.

Some of those areas already do not allow snowmobiling anyway.

The Jewel Basin, for example, is largely closed, but there are about 10 acres that are open. The same with Bunker Creek.

In the Slippery Bill area up the Middle Fork, about 353 acres are open that could be closed.

The largest closure could come in the Upper Sullivan and Tin Creek area — that amounts to 11,597 acres on the Spotted Bear Ranger District.

That area is just north of Bunker Creek in South Fork of the Flathead.

The snowmobile gains and losses are a bit of a wash — at least from an acreage standpoint.

“The scope of the analysis will be based on the change in suitability for motorized over-snow vehicle use which correlates to about a decrease in suitability of 12,234 acres and about an increase in suitability on 12,759 acres across the forest,” the Forest noted in a release.

For a complete description of proposals, site specific maps, and information on how to comment, visit the project webpage at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=61460. People who do not have any site-specific comments at this time but would like to get updates on the project can send contact information to comments-northern-flathead@usda.gov.

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