Updated March 21, 2009

Gate Status Survey: The Priest Lake State Forest (PLSF) covers 186,000 acres just east of Priest Lake, Idaho, and is transected by hundreds of miles of roads. Road access is regulated by gates, and gate design is crucial to the effectiveness in preventing motorized travel beyond it.  The PLSF is owned by the State of Idaho and managed mainly by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), primarily a logging support function.

In the summer of 2008, Selkirk Conservation Alliance (SCA) employee Mike Connors undertook a gate survey of the PLSF. The goal was to evaluate the effectiveness of gates overall in motorized vehicle management and how that management affects the natural resources with PLSF, especially grizzly bear for which it is documented in the scientific literature that roads are a negative factor.  Actually, grizzly bears tend to avoid a buffer adjacent to roads, almost any road, with actively used roads being the worst in terms of affecting habitat values.

Mike was not able to determine the miles of roads on PLSF. (For that, stay tuned for updates on our GIS PLSF project - see below.) He did, however, determine that approximately 137 gates exist on PLSF – 24 more than shown on IDL maps. Mike was able to determine, also, that PLSF gates provide a minimal level of protection for sensitive resources with less than 10% (13 of 137) actually barred against all motorized vehicle entry. 

Grizzy bear cub

There are 29 gates (of the 137 total) within grizzly bear habitat, at least within what is known as the State Bear Management Unit. Six of these gates are entirely in the northern part of PLSF and meant, primarily, to protect grizzly bear habitat; however, this survey discovered that 2 (33%) of these were actually open and three (50%) showed evidence of recent motorized use beyond them – not effective!!  That left 23 gates, still in the State Bear Management Unit that, by design, are open to motorcycle and ATV use beyond the gates even when they are closed.  Why you ask?  Because these gates are designed with a simple two posts – one post-post bar and a short angle support bar.  They are designed to stop multi-passenger vehicles and nothing else.

SCA has submitted our report to IDL, Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game and other agencies.  SCA included eight recommendations to IDL, perhaps the easiest to accomplish being to retrofit all gates within the Bear Management Unit to stop all motorized vehicles beyond them.  This will not affect IDL’s mission and it would provide needed protection to grizzly bears.  IDL did respond to our study report and SCA will let you know whether progress is made or not on this gates issue.

Posted July 2008

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project: SCA is working with Gonzaga University to develop a GIS project on the Priest Lake State Forest. This project is assessing the roads system within the State Forest and looking at the total road system, closed versus open, reportedly closed but in unauthorized use, etc. When completed, this GIS layer will provide an interesting comparison with roads data reported by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL which manages this State Forest).

It will, also, provide the basis for a crucial grizzly bear security analysis update for the Priest Lake State Forest Grizzly Bear Management Unit (GBMU). Finally, this project will look at the standing timber volume issue, i.e. how much area is actually available to IDL for logging versus how much is reported. The most positive outcome would be for this data to verify the IDL data. However, we anticipate it will reveal significant errors that, whether intentional or not, have the potential to devastate crucial habitat for grizzly bear, mountain caribou, bull trout and other sensitive resources.

SCA will use the results of this project to motivate IDL to complete its unconscionably delayed Habitat Conservation Plan (now over 5 years) and to complete a plan that will provide significant protection to the sensitive resources of the Priest Lake State Forest

Photo credits:
Grizzly bear cub – Steve Hillebrand

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