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For the week of February 21 through 27, 2001

Guardian angel of SNRA

Sawtooth Society approaches fifth year

"They’ve been a real asset in lobbying to get us funds. They’ve been a valuable resource, and we’re glad to have them."

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere

Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth Society was founded in August 1997 to help watch over Idaho’s crown jewel, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The nonprofit organization has been looking over the U.S. Forest Service’s shoulder ever since.

Bob Hayes, executive director of the Sawtooth Society, explains the significance of the society’s contributions to the SNRA.


The Sawtooth Society was founded by Bethine Church, widow of Sen. Frank Church who spearheaded the effort to create the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) in 1972.

The society, said executive director Bob Hayes, has a unique relationship with the Forest Service, which oversees management of the SNRA.

"We don’t try to replace the Forest Service or federal funding," Hayes said during a recent ski into the Redfish Lake area. "We simply recognize [that federal funding] is insufficient to maintain this area the way it needs to be maintained."

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere said the Forest Service’s relationship with the Sawtooth Society is a "great partnership."

"They’ve been a real asset in lobbying to get us funds. They’ve been a valuable resource, and we’re glad to have them."

Now, nearing the end of its fourth year, the society has helped fund more than a dozen key recreation projects as well as helped orchestrate purchases of key conservation easements.

The society has 1,300 members from 22 states and is operating on a $250,000 budget this year. Four years ago, the society operated on a budget of less than $50,000.

Hayes said the SNRA needs "an effective citizens’ advocacy group."

"It’ll do what the Forest Service can’t do by itself."

The society has a three-fold mission: make known threats to the SNRA, preserve open space and enhance recreational facilities and services.

"We’ve managed, and we’ll continue to manage to do, what we set out to do," Church recently told a reporter.

The second goal—preservation of open space—is something Hayes said will eventually be completed throughout the SNRA.

When established, the 756,000-acre SNRA included about 25,000 acres of private land. Early efforts by the Forest Service secured conservation easements on about 90 percent of that, involving 78 property owners.

Since then, easements on seven additional properties have been acquired. Easements on another 11 properties, amounting to about 800 highly visible acres, remain to be secured, said Hayes. He expects that to take three to five years.

"At some point, I’m confident we’ll be able to declare victory in regard to open space."

The Sawtooth Society doesn’t purchase easements, nor does it donate money to the Forest Service for the purchase of easements.

Rather, it lobbies for funds from Congress and works to facilitate negotiations between the Forest Service and property owners.

The society helped resolve stalled easement negotiations between the Forest Service and a Challis ranching family, the Pivas, last year. The Pivas eventually agreed to accept $2.3 million from the Forest Service to halt their plans for a subdivision near Stanley.

Other challenges facing the society will be ongoing, however.

Over the years, SNRA funding has dropped while visitor use has increased. That has resulted in a $2 million maintenance backlog.

During the ski tour of the Redfish Lake area, Hayes pointed to several projects that have been funded, or will be funded, at least in part, by the Sawtooth Society.

The Redfish Lake amphitheater, which is near the visitors’ center, is undergoing $20,000 in renovations this spring. The $20,000 was the result of a grant to the society.

"Like a lot of things here, local funding has just not kept up with the maintenance needs," Hayes said. "We just need to pick up the slack."

The amphitheater, home to summer interpretive programs, will receive new seating and updated lighting and sound equipment.

Another potential destination of Sawtooth Society funds are renovations to the visitors’ center, Hayes said. So far, that potential project has only been discussed.

Hayes also pointed to a rerouted section of trail that was the result, in part, of funding from the society. In three years, the society has donated $32,000 to the SNRA for trail work in the White Cloud and Sawtooth Mountains.

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