Guest opinion by J. ROBB
J. Robb Brady is the former
publisher of the Post Register, and a member of the Idaho Falls
newspaper’s editorial board.
The U.S. Forest Service has taken
10 years to come up with a final plan for the Frank Church-River of No
Return Wilderness—and the agency still hasn't got it right.
For the public, it means more
mechanical noise—from boats and planes—in the largest wilderness setting
in the lower 48 states. The issue stems from the compromises that were
forged when the wilderness was created in 1980.
For both commercial outfitters and
environmentalists, it means more frustration. Both groups have appealed
What's wrong with the proposal?
Here's a partial list:
Widespread jet boat use
already makes the Frank the noisiest wilderness in the system. This
plan would make it even noisier by allowing more jet boats along the
main Salmon River. Commercial river outfitters want more jet boat usage
on the main Salmon River. The Forest Service's new "boat days" formula
for commercial jet boat usage gives them what they want—at least on
Meanwhile, the Forest Service has
increased private jet boat use.
And this plan does nothing to
reduce—or, better, eliminate— the practice of providing round trips for
jet boaters to the end of the wild river corridor and back.
As a result, the sound in the deep
river canyons becomes deafening too many days.
Think noise from jet boats
is out of place in a wilderness area? Try a growing number of airplanes
flying into the Frank's 27 airstrips. Today, those airstrips handle
some 5,500 landings a year—small by the standards of Idaho's commercial
airports, but substantial in terms of a wilderness setting.
The Forest Service can't eliminate
airstrips. Like jet boats, airstrips were grand fathered into the 1980
Central Idaho Wilderness Act.
But it should at least decrease
landings and even require permits—provided it gets agreement from the
Idaho Aeronautics Board. The Aeronautics Board this month balked at any
decrease in strips anywhere, but the board's argument—that these strips
serve the disabled—is just so much public posturing. Obviously the small
percentage of disabled are well-accommodated. Meanwhile, the Forest
Service is preserving four airstrips of its own for emergency use. When
it purchased those strips, the Forest Service said it would abandon
them. Now the Forest Service says it also will allow "other" kinds of
landings at these strips.
One outfitter had the
chutzpah to seek approval for flying in hot tubs for his elite
clientele. Had the Forest Service agreed, it would have further
eroded the wilderness qualities of the Frank. Fortunately, it said no.
But just the fact that someone thought a hot tub might be both
appropriate and approved for the area shows at least some Idaho
commercial outfitters want to restore the luxurious caches a federal
court banned a decade ago.
In 1993, a federal judge
ordered the Forest Service to change how it issues hunting district
permits to outfitters. Those are public resources, but commercial
outfitters claim them as property. Nothing in this new plan
addresses that issue.
The plan doesn't address
how floaters on the Middle Fork of the Salmon as well as both motorized
and float parties on the main Salmon River are damaging campsites and
trails. For the most part, outfitters on the Middle Fork have been
responsible caretakers of the wilderness area. But the pressure on these
areas is building because more people - both private and commercial
trips—are spending more time on the river. The Forest Service should
rein in the party size and number of days they stay on the river.
One issue the plan glosses
over involves public access. Here's a good example: People can't get
into a large area within the Frank because a bridge in the Fern Creek
area failed. The Forest Service has failed to rebuild the bridge.