September, 2003. The Salmon Challis National Forest has released a Finalized Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) which proposes to reduce the number of days that parties can remain on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river. The idea is to reduce the impacts of boaters on the river corridor, while at the same time the analysis would allow for an increase in jetboat numbers on the wilderness mainstem Salmon River.
The boiled down synthesis goes something like this: Public parties of 21-24 members, and commercial parties of 21-30 customers, would be limited to a maximum of 6 days on the river. Parties (both commercial and public) of 11 -20 members would be limited to 7 days on the river. Only those groups of 10 or less would be allowed to remain on the river for the current use limit of 8 days.
Lloyd Knapp, with North West Rafters Association, notes that most commercial trips don't stay on the river for 8 days due to quick turnaround times. This new ruling will not affect commercial outfitters, but it will fall onto the backs of self-outfitted recreational boaters, who typically take longer trips through the area. While the intent of the plan is to reduce the wear and tear on the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Lloyd notes that in doing quick-turnarounds, the commercial outfitters are pouring more people down the river than trips that moving at a slower pace. Knapp notes "I would say that the river is not over-used. It does get a lot of use, but the Summer float season is relatively short. It's not at all like the Gauley in West Virginia, or other rivers that are loved to death."
Knapp also points out that the river also raises a substantial fortune in the contested Recreation Fee Demonstration program. "There is no evidence that the Forest Service has spent a dime of this money on the river. If there is over use in certain areas, then the Fee Demo money should be used for repairs and maintenance."
Jo Johnson, co-director of River Runners For Wilderness, notes there are clear flaws in this management plan. "Increasing motorized use and speeding up river travel through the wilderness do nothing to promote wilderness character. This plan continues the now outdated concept of allocating river use between the public and a small oligopoly of middlemen. This model has outlived its usefulness, especially in light of a continued growth in public rafting and ongoing declines in demand for guided river running services."
The FEIS has been issued, and the deadline for comments is October 27, 2003. A summary version of the FEIS is available at the website below. This is a Forest Service publication known as Frankly Speaking (a reference to Frank Church).
Your comments strongly opposing this plan are needed. Quite simply, there is very little justification for this type of wilderness river use. It's discriminatory against public river users, and doesn't do anything about the commercial interests, who carry very large groups of people quickly through while putting most of the use on the wilderness. Comments can be submitted to:
Salmon Challis National Forest
50 Highway 93 South
Salmon, Idaho 83467
Comments can also be e-mailed to:
RRFW encourages you to mail a hardcopy. It's a lot harder to lose a hardcopy than it is to press a delete button.
RRFW thanks Lloyd Knapp for information supplied in this Riverwire