Commentary by GREG MOORE
As whitewater rafting and kayaking have grown in popularity,
non-commercial boaters find it more and more difficult to get onto Idahos
limited-access rivers. The current odds of obtaining a permit in the Forest Service
lottery system to run the Middle Fork of the Salmon, for example, are only 1 in 23.
Meanwhile, the customers of commercial outfitters can simply make a
phone call and reserve space on short notice for almost any time they want.
That isnt fair.
Though outfitters perform a valuable service to the public, one thing
they shouldnt be allowed to sell is privileged access. Access to a publicly owned
resource should be equally available to all.
I know of instances in which groups of boaters who were unable to
obtain a permit had to hire an outfitter to do a custom trip just so they could use the
outfitters permit to get on the river. In that scenario, the outfitter is being
permitted to erect a toll booth and say, "Pay me if you want to go down the
The Forest Service now has an opportunity to correct that imbalance
through its new management plan for the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. One of
the proposed alternatives for management of the Middle Fork and main Salmon rivers is a
"freedom-of-choice" system, which would eliminate the current system of split
allocations between commercial and non-commercial launches. Instead, everyone would
compete in the same permit pool, and successful applicants would then decide whether to go
with an outfitter or not.
The National Organization for Rivers, which for years has been
advocating a system that provides fair access, has suggested that the Forest Service take
the freedom-of-choice alternative one step furtherby eliminating the lottery and
putting everything on a reservation basis. By requiring participants to provide a list of
actual people on the trip, such a system would cut out the deadwoodpeople entering
the lottery with no concrete trip plans. Furthermore, it would be more palatable to
outfitters by allowing their clients to book their trips with the outfitters just as they
do now. The only difference would be that the clients waiting time would be the same
as that of non-commercial boaters.
The Forest Service points out that adoption of a freedom-of-choice
system would result in a 71 percent loss of business to Idaho outfitters if all their
prospective clients competed in the permit pool (and more if they didnt). If
thats true, then its just another way of saying that under the current system,
71 percent of outfitters clients are being allowed to butt in line ahead of
River outfitting provides an infusion of cash into the economies of
Ketchum and Stanley, and a good source of local employment. Its a great summer job;
I know because I used to do it. However, management policy toward outfitting should be
based on public need, not outfitters incomes. Commercial considerations should not
be allowed to trample over the publics right of access to public rivers.
The Forest Service is accepting comments on its proposed alternatives
until Feb. 1. The address is: Salmon-Challis National Forest, Box 600, Salmon, ID 83467,
Att. FC-RONRW SEIS.
Greg Moore is a copy editor and reporter for the Idaho Mountain