River Of No Return Management Plan Update

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) has been released for the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Management Plan by the Salmon Challis National Forest. This plan will guide management of the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon River for years to come. The wild character of this area has degraded significantly in the past 20 years and that trend will actually increase under the new plan. Please take a few minutes to write a letter to the Forest Service asking them to protect the wilderness character of the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness. Comments must be submitted by October 27, 2003.

The final plan allows unlimited expansion of aircraft and motorboat use, continued degradation around campsites, lakes, streams and trails, serious impairment of the opportunity for a wilderness experience on the Middle Fork Salmon and Main Salmon rivers, and an unfair quota system that has commercialized much of the access to these rivers. While the draft EIS included 11 alternatives for consideration, the final EIS has been reduced to a final five (A to E). Though none of these alternatives are optimal to preserve Wilderness character and values, Alternative B comes closest. We endorse Alternative B, but only with the following changes:

(1) Managing use on the Middle Fork and Main Salmon rivers: Alternative B is the only alternative that caps use at a level that protects Wilderness character and opportunities for a wilderness experience. However, because this alternative continues an outdated and unfair allocation system (60 percent of use is for commercial trips), and allows for overly large party sizes (19 per group) it unnecessarily limits the number of public boaters who can float these rivers. The Forest Service should cap river use at the level set in Alternative B, but increase the number of trips available to the public by reducing group size limits to 12 per trip, and by allocating a much larger percentage of the launches to the public, rather than commercial users. The opportunity to experience Wilderness should not be based on one's willingness to pay a commercial outfitter.

(a) Jetboats: The plan allows virtually unlimited motorboat use on the Mail Salmon. Jetboat use has grown dramatically since 1978, much of it for "jetback" shuttles, which bring rafters upriver to their cars. Urge the Forest Service to prohibit jetbacks, and to cap motorboat use at 1978 levels.

(b) Painter Bar Road: The Painter Bar road is a primitive route that was used to access a private inholding within the Wilderness and Wild Salmon River corridor. The Forest Service has acquired the inholding. The FEIS proposes to leave this road open to ATVs and 4-wheel drive traffic. The Wilderness Act prohibits permanent roads and the Wild Scenic Rivers Act prohibits roads along Wild Rivers. Urge the FS to close the Painter Road in the final plan.

(2) Aircraft Use: The Forest Service estimates that 5,500 aircraft land on airstrips in the Wilderness each year. Most of the use is not for wilderness dependent activities but part of a new fad where pilots "bag" airstrips to prove their competence, or engage in an airplane version of car camping. All of the alternatives the Forest Service developed allow aircraft use to increase without restriction. Urge the Forest Service to limit the number of aircraft landings to pre-Wilderness designation levels, and to implement a permit system that allows access for legitimate Wilderness dependent activities only.

In addition, and without agency approval, pilots have converted four Wilderness meadows into landing strips, referred to as the Dewey Moore, Mile-Hi, Simonds, and Vines "landing strips". The Forest Service preferred alternative proposes to maintain these strips for "emergency use," though landing at other times would not be prohibited. Urge the Forest Service to permanently close the Dewey Moore, Mile-Hi, Simonds, and Vines landing strips.

(3) Backcountry: Urge the Forest Service to implement specific management strategies to reduce crowding and on-site physical impacts by reducing group size limits from the current 20 people/20 head of stock, to 10 people/10 head of stock.

(4) Outfitter Camps: The plan would continue the practice of reserving over 80 camps for commercial land-based outfitters. The camps include permanent structures such as corrals, tent logs and fences. All Wilderness users should be required to meet the same rigorous leave-no-trace standards. Urge the Forest Service to require that outfitter camps be temporary and removed at the end of each season.

(5) Livestock grazing, fire control, fish stocking: These three important ecological issues are not addressed in the plan despite the fact that each has a significant effect on natural conditions in the Wilderness. Urge the Forest Service to adopt standards that promote naturally functioning ecosystems. Natural fires should be allowed to burn, stocking non-native species should cease, and strict controls should be incorporated into livestock allotment plans.

Send your comments to: Ken Wotring, FC-RONR Wilderness Coordinator, Forest Supervisor's Office, Salmon-Challis National Forest, 50 Highway 93 South, Salmon, ID 83467. Phone: (208) 756-5131, Fax: (208) 756 - 5151, email: comments-intermtn-salmon-challis@fs.fed.us.

River Runners for Wilderness thanks Wilderness Watch www.wildernesswatch.org for gathering the information contained in this release.