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For the week of Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, 2000

Public needs outfitters’ skills

Commentary by Steve Lentz

Greg Moore of the Idaho Mountain Express staff leads you to believe that access on our regulated rivers is unfair. He leads you to believe the answer is to regulate rivers by the "Freedom of Choice" lottery. Before reinventing the wheel, we should check all of the spokes.

Most (95 percent or more) of the taxpaying public do not have the skills, time or equipment to outfit their own trips on many of America's regulated whitewater rivers. For that reason, agencies set aside a portion of use on most rivers to the outfitted public.

Usually, the number of permits issued for outfitter operations is limited to protect the quality of the experience and the resource. With each permit an allocation of use is provided to the outfitter, which can be adjusted at the end of the term of the permit. This system allows the outfitter to market a known quantity of use, and to budget equipment, staff and resources for that finite supply of use.

Private users (self-guided users) are granted unrestricted access to most rivers in the United States. Of the more than 1,000 streams available to private users on federal lands, fees are collected and their use is restricted on only about 25.

On these 25 federally managed rivers around the country, all users, self-guided users and outfitted users are restricted and permitted. Where all use is regulated, a portion is allocated to self-guided users and a portion is allocated to the outfitted public and assigned to commercial outfitters.

On most regulated rivers, self-guided users command 50 percent or more of the allocation of use. On the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho, for example, private users are given nearly 60 percent of the use allocation. On the Selway, private users are granted nearly 80 percent of the allocated use.

On these rivers outfitters use a higher percentage of their allocation of user days than private users. However, outfitters are not seeking to expand use for outfitted public to diminish opportunities for private users. On the other hand, the-outfitted public is prohibited altogether on some streams that flow through federal lands such as the South Fork Boise and the South Fork Salmon.

As-commonly proposed, freedom of choice advocates seek to place all launches or user days on regulated rivers into a common pool which could be accessed by private users or potential customers of outfitters. Some private users think that this system will increase their chances of getting permits on tightly regulated rivers because no use will be set aside or allocated specifically for the outfitted public. An increase for self-guided users will -diminish opportunities to the outfitted public and eliminate opportunities for many families to visit federal lands.

Freedom -of-choice is no choice for the outfitted public and, if implemented, it will-destroy an industry that has provided quality service to the vacationing public on federal lands for more than five decades. In their supplemental management plan for the-Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, the Forest Service -included "freedom of choice" as one alternative for management, but agency officials recognized in that document that this alternative permit system would decimate quality services for outfitted visitors.

"Freedom of choice" is a misnomer for a management strategy that would destroy opportunities for quality recreation experiences for the overwhelming majority of citizens on regulated .rivers. There are many "faucets" available which would allow a higher access potential of self-guided public to visit regulated rivers without creating the negative impact on the local economies and businesses which rely on historical allocations. Investigate them yourself by obtaining the proposed alternatives. The address is: Salmon-Challis National Forest, Box 600, Salmon, ID 83467, Attention: FC-RONRW SEIS.

Steve Lentz owns Far & Away Adventures and has been a licensed river guide in Idaho for 25 years.


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