For the week of July 8 thru July 14, 1998  

More people means more rules

Wilderness plan goes into effect with some noteworthy changes

Express Staff Writer

8wild1.gif (8157 bytes)Wilderness ranger Liese Dean shows how to use a fire blanket, layering it with dirt and then small twigs.

Attention all Sawtooth Wilderness users: If you don’t know what a fire blanket is, you’d better learn.

Or, if your dog likes to roam the forest freely, you’d better train him to enjoy a leash instead.

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area updated wilderness management plan is now in effect, and the new regulations may take some getting used to.

The plan was approved in September 1997, and the appeals process was concluded in June.

Liese Dean, a wilderness ranger at SNRA headquarters in Stanley, said these changes help manage land that has seen a drastic increase in use over the past three decades.

wildmap.gif (27054 bytes)In 1965, 7,340 people visited the 217,000 designated acres of Sawtooth Wilderness. By 1996, the wilderness had some 40,000 annual visitors.

Dean pointed out that most of these visits occur between July 1 and Labor Day, concentrating the heavy use in a relatively short period of time.

The wilderness plan, then, she said, tries to balance what the Forest Service considers a dual mandate: to protect the wilderness in its natural condition while making it available for people to enjoy.

"The plan we have enables us to allow more people to use the wilderness," Dean said.

One way to allow more people to use the wilderness is to study trends in usage. The Forest Service can then manage resources more closely in specific areas.

8wild2.gif (6497 bytes)Dogs, such as Manfred, must be on leashes from July 1 to Labor Day.

A new regulation requiring a user permit helps the Forest Service track into which areas people are traveling. The wilderness permit is free for unlimited use and differs from the SNRA and Ketchum Ranger District user fee pass, which is also required.

Groups with no horses and fewer than eight people can fill out a permit at the trailheads. Groups with more than eight people or with horses can obtain permits at the ranger stations.

Another significant change in wilderness regulations involves campfires.

Campfires have been prohibited from July 1 through Labor Day in areas where there is little fire fuel left, including Alice and Toxaway lakes, Alpine Creek and the Scenic Lakes area.

In all other areas of the wilderness, fire blankets and fire pans must be used for campfires. The reason for this, Dean said, is to prevent the buildup of fire rings.

"If we can do one thing to get the wilderness closest to its natural state, this is it," Dean said. "There is no greater imprint of man than a fire ring."

"If people want to go in and have big roaring bonfires, there are places to go," Dean added, "but not in the wilderness."

The campfire ban will have a big impact on outfitters, said Jeff Bitton, owner of Mystic Saddle Ranch.

"We are trying to figure out how to get along without campfires," Bitton said. "We may move trails and hikes to other areas, because people think that’s important."

8wild3.gif (5370 bytes)Fire rings a sign of man’s imprint on the wilderness.

Two trail-less areas--Goat/Warbonnet and Alpine Creek drainages--have been closed to stock. This is a compromise between the Forest Service and local outfitters over the initial proposal, which closed 14 miles of trail to stock.

"We worked with them a whole lot to convince them that the trails should not be closed," Bitton said.

Dean said perhaps one of the most controversial changes will be requiring all dogs to be leashed between July 1 and Labor Day.

"If people want to go in and have big roaring bonfires, there are places to go, but not in the wilderness." Liese Dean, wilderness ranger

While the Forest Service will be enforcing these regulations with fines between $50 and $100, Dean said she would rather people understand why these regulations are important, rather than spend her summer issuing citations.

"We’ll be carrying extra leashes and fire blankets that we’ll lend people," Dean said. "They can leave them at the trailhead when they’re through."

Dean noted that these regulations are part of the ongoing process of wilderness area management.

"I spend my summer seeing how regulations work. If they don’t work, it makes no sense to have regulations that don’t achieve our objectives," Dean said.

Bitton said regulations are a necessary part of keeping the wilderness pristine. He said now that the appeals process is over, he will work with the Forest Service.

"In the big picture, this wilderness is so good it’s unbelievable," Bitton said. "The point from the management side is to keep it that way."


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