Last year's logjam at Pistol Creek on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River has rematerialized and has been joined by a riverwide strainer (a log at river level) just above Pistol Creek at Lake Creek. Unlike last year, the US Forest Service says it has no plans to blast apart the logjam.
USFS officials stated that last July the logjam built up overnight while 200 rafters were upstream without knowing it was there, creating the difficulty of informing boaters. Some noncommercial boaters simply portaged the obstruction and one outfitter hired pack animals to move equipment and people around. USFS wilderness workers used dynamite to blow up the logjam within a few days.
This year's logjam appears to consist of fewer logs but still blocks the river completely making the rapid unrunnable. Lake Creek's drainage area, ravaged by fires in previous years and littered with dead trees, flooded and pushed the logs and a debris pile into the river overnight during a storm.
This spring the problem was repeated and compounded when a live tree fell across the river just below Lake Creek. The Middle Fork's channel at Lake Creek (RM 21.5*) has substantially changed with new bars and newly exposed sharp rocks adding to the problems. Higher water will change it again during the runoff period, so river runners need to carefully inspect this portion of river via trails before deciding on a strategy throughout the season. Pre-season river runners have lined Lake Creek and portaged Pistol Creek (RM 22.7*) or portaged both.
The USFS recently released a statement saying, in part, "It is the responsibility of every boater to be aware of conditions on the rivers and take appropriate precautions including being heads-up and scouting the rivers. It may mean portaging or lining your boats around hazards. The Salmon-Challis National Forest will not be clearing obstacles from the rivers to assure passage for boaters."
"Self-guided river runners could have an unprecedented wilderness experience this year" observes Jo Johnson of River Runners for Wilderness, "Since many commercial outfitters are unlikely to march their passengers and equipment around the obstacles if the USFS stands by the commitment to let wilderness be wild, just like Arizona's Salt River before it was blasted."
Indian Creek at RM 25.2 is an alternate launch site where trips can enter below the problem area via plane shuttle and it is expected that at least some commercial outfitters will use this option.
On August 3, 2006 the Missoula, Montana-based national activist group Wilderness Watch sent a letter to then USFS Chief Dale Bosworth requesting a formal review of the agency's response to last year's dynamiting incident. The Middle Fork is a designated Wild and Scenic River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
Wilderness Watch wrote, "The decision to blow up the logjam raises important questions about Wilderness and the Forest Service's stewardship. There is little doubt that other natural eventsof similar or greater magnitude will occur in designated Wilderness in the years ahead, and that managers will be confronted with these challenges many times. For that reason, the response to this event serves as an important learning opportunity for present and future managers, as well as for the general public."
Pictures of the strainer and logjam as of April 27, 2007 can be seen (scroll down the page) at: http://restwhenyoudie.com/(21)april_27th_2007.htm
Read USFS press release:
*Guide to the Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers, Idaho, by Duwain Whitis and Barbara Vinson, Rivermaps, 2007. Available through the store at www.rrfw.org/store.