PNT Move Proposal Sparks Controversy in the Yaak

By Tracy McNew

A proposed rerouting of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) from the Yaak to the south through Libby and Troy has been in the works for a few years now, said Jeff Kish, Executive Director of the nonprofit Pacific Northwest Trail Association.

“We aren’t opposed to the trail moving,” he said, “but we take a stance when the arguments being used to move the trail aren’t accurate.”

Kish and others expressed that proponents of changing the route have been trying to make people believe that the trail doesn’t even exist yet but it does and has for years.

According to Yaak Mercantile owner, Gwen Allen inaccurate information is what she has been hearing too.

Allen told The Montanian that she and others in the area originally thought the move was being done for grizzly bears but “we quickly figured out that much of what we were being told was false information.”

According to Rick Bass of the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC), Grizzly bears really are one of the main reasons for the proposed move and there are scientific studies that backup these concerns. “Yaak’s last 20 or so grizzlies are too important to our ecosystem and our culture to risk being run out of their summer alpine habitat,” said Bass in an email.

Kish though said something quite different, “I haven’t been able to find a single grizzly bear biologist that supports the trail is going to be a problem,” he said.

Recently the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC) partnered with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and sent information about the proposed new southern route to members of congress for consideration.

Since the trail and its route are federally designated, the move would also need a literal act of congress to officially happen.

According to a recent press release from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, there are three reasons why the trail should be moved.

The trail, as it stands now, goes through portions of the Kootenai tribe’s aboriginal territory that is of cultural significance.

In addition, the tribe references studies that were conducted in 1978 and 1980 which concluded the trail could have detrimental impacts on grizzly bear.

Lastly, if the trail becomes heavily used then the USFS would need to limit access.

Soon after the proposal became public, Yaak resident Randy Beachum started a petition. “I usually like to keep a low profile,” he told The Montanian, “but I thought it was important to make people aware that there is another side to the issue of the PNT and to give more information about what hikers coming through here are doing.”

Beachum has been a volunteer trail angel for the past four years. His name goes into a guidebook and if hikers need help they can call him for things like rides, food, water or shelter.

“Right now,” Beachum said, “we have over 100 signatures and we’re still collecting.”

According to Kish, Allen and Beachum, the main problems with the proposed reroute are twofold.

First, approximately 60 people has been the maximum number of hikers on the tail in any one year to date. This means that the trail is highly unlikely to reach a high intensity use threshold which could impact grizzlys and timber harvesting.

Second, the congressionally designated route includes difficult terrain and most hikers desire. They come experienced, and well prepared, and the proposed route would include much more urbanization and hikers may not even take it.

Kish summed it up by saying “We don’t think the solution they’ve offered is acceptable. It (the route) doesn’t meet the standards of the national trail system act, it doesn’t meet the intent that the trail was founded for, and it doesn’t meet the standards that the public expects and is looking for.”

According to Rick Bass of the YVFC, the southern route “offers broader vistas, more swimming, fishing, birdwatching, grater botanical diversity and local history.”

Both sides are interested in working things out but nothing is scheduled at this time.

Kish talked about the possibility of holding a public meeting in the Yaak, and Bass said in an email that “Instead of fighting, this is a great opportunity for stakeholders in both states to craft a solution that preserves opportunities and protects resources—and gives hikers a positive and scenic exposure to the full representation of Lincoln County.

For more information on the proposed southern route visit www.yaakvalley.org and visit and to learn more about the PNT in general visit www.pnt.org.

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