Group wants Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area declared a disaster

Thanks to Mike for this..

Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

The Idaho Chapter of the Wilderness Society shares the group’s concern over the lack of trail maintenance and funding.

“It’s no secret the agency hasn’t been able to keep up with deadfall on trails and bridges washing out. Nobody is disputing that,” said Craig Gehrke of The Wilderness Society.

But harsh language in the resolution that describes fire as a destructive force instead of a natural process and hints that chain saw use might be needed to erase the trail maintenance backlog is alienating him and other environmentalists.

“The Frank Church Wilderness has some of the best wildlife habitat, water quality and fish habitat in the Lower 48 states. Spreading wild misinformation about wilderness and designating one of Idaho’s icons a ‘disaster area’ is not the right way fix the trails,” Gehrke said. “By spreading myths about wilderness, this resolution could actually hurt important efforts to increase trails funding and broaden much-needed partnerships.”

Ryan said he is aware that the resolution is ruffling feathers.

“I know Craig Gehrke thinks this is an anti-wilderness bill but I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as getting the Forest Service to do their job. Maybe we can stir the pot enough to get it done,” he said

Note from Sharon: At the risk of being heretical, maybe you could have “Chainsaw Week” where everyone goes in and does trails and the rest of the year they’re not allowed?

11 thoughts on “Group wants Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area declared a disaster”

  1. This Idaho resolution sounds sort of like a bill (SB 34) which was introduced during the 2009 Montana legislative session. SB 34’s “solution” was simply to declare federal national forest lands in Montana as a source of “community decay,” putting public forests in the same category as junk cars and trash piles. The bill’s main sponsor (Sen. Dave Lewis) and the timber industry’s “solution” was to allow Montana counties to send their employees into federal national forest lands, cut down the trees and then send the federal government a bill for the work.

    The Montana Wood Product Association’s lead lobbyist (the late Ellen Simpson Engstedt) even rose to testify in support of SB 34 with information about all the timber mills that used to be in Montana during the unsustainable logging haydays of the 1960s to early 1980s, sort of making a case that Montana’s timber industry would gladly take this illegally cut timber from the “decayed” National Forest lands.

    Yep, Senator Lewis even admitted that his “common sense” solution would have guaranteed a challenge in federal court with the US Government. Hmmmm….I’m sure Montana taxpayers and federal taxpayers would have loved paying for that!

    Anyway, thankfully Montana has a bi-annual legislature, as I’m not sure many of us could handle the state leg meeting every year.

    Craig Gehrke, in this case, has it 100% correct: “The Frank Church Wilderness has some of the best wildlife habitat, water quality and fish habitat in the Lower 48 states.”

    I agree that an Idaho House resolution declaring the entire Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness as a “natural resource disaster” area is inherently anti-Wilderness and anti-science. It’s also somewhat offensive to those America’s who deal with real natural disasters.

    And it does very little to increase funding for Forest Service trail maintenance in that area or anywhere else. Wouldn’t it be better for Rep Barrett and Rep Gibbs, and those concerned about this issue, to simply meet directly with the Forest Service about funding issues? Or perhaps talk to their Idaho Congressional delegation? If we are going to constantly criticize enviros on this site for barking up the wrong tree or using language that some find hyperbolic, shouldn’t we also do the same for those in Idaho who selfishly want to declare one of America’s greatest Wilderness Areas a “natural disaster” area?

    • Matt: I agree that the resolution is “anti-Wilderness,” but I think you’re (way, way) over-stating your case when you say it is also “anti-science.” That doesn’t even make sense. Kind of like listening to a professional Wilderness advocate and then claiming that they are “100% correct” when they advocate for Wilderness. Not sure I would trust Mr. Gehrke’s statements at all in that regard, no matter how “best” is being defined. Your bias on this topic is obvious — and there is nothing wrong with passionate advocacy — but over-stating your case to such a degree puts your credibility (not to mention your scientific objectivity) into question.

      • Bob: When some politicians want to pass a resolution declaring the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness a “natural resource disaster” simply because there are apparently too many downed trees across trails and this upsets the horse packers and outfitters….than, yes, I call that “anti-science” because this is simply not a “natural resource disaster.” If that’s – in your opinion – “way, way over-stating” my case or if my comment puts my credibility and scientific objectivity into questions I could care less. Thanks.

        • Matt: Don’t forget the blurb about “fire being a destructive force.” When you try to reduce the argument to “simply” horse-packers needing trails cleared, then you are not being accurate or fair. Like I say, there is nothing wrong with being a passionate advocate — but advocacy always seems improved by credibility and facts and drawn into question when promoted by shrill hyperbole and misinformation. If you don’t mind being perceived as a biased shill for the Wilderness industry, that is your choice. I just think it weakens your case to a great degree and, yes, that is my opinion. If you don’t care for constructive criticism, that is also your choice.

          • Bob: I’m pretty sure nothing I have written here in this comment thread crosses over into “shrill hyperbole” range. Anyway, thanks as always and have a great weekend.

  2. Nope Sharon…not one chainsaw in wilderness! Or roadless for that matter. Mabye they can volunteer for “crosscut saw week.” You want wilderness…now wallow in it. Nobody cleared trails for Lewis and Clark. Gotta take the bad with the good. An emerging wilderness phenomenon…trails clogged with deadfall. I’m thinkin a “wilderness use fee” might pay for the increasing “trail maintenance costs” this will bring about. Why should us taxpayers subsidize “below cost (or should I say NO cost) wilderness use.” It’s time wilderness users paid their fair share. The cost/RVD is ridiculous. Why no user fee? You pay in most campgrounds don’t you? Let me guess…the excuse is, “we don’t want a fee because it would prohibit the poor from hiking in wilderness?” Frankly…I doubt the USFS will ever keep up with the deadfall…in Idaho or Colorado…and emerging wilderness issue. Hey…do like the indians did…torch it.

    I would love to see how this new phenomenon effects RVD’s…but we’ll never know.

    • Derek: If the situation in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness is anything like the situation in some of Montana’s biggest Wilderness areas (Think: The Bob Marshall) this trail clearing issue really isn’t very much about hikers.

      I’d bet $1,000 it’s mainly about the horse-packers and the outfitters. Many of those horse-packers and outfitters are, in fact, commercial operations on our public lands.

      So when you somewhat joyously say “You want wilderness…now wallow in it” and “It’s time wilderness users paid their fair share” I have a feeling you were thinking about a hiking, urban-living Sierra Clubber….but in this case it’s really mainly about the horse-packers and outfitters…and since that’s the case, I agree with you 100%.

      It’s about time those horse-packing and outfitting folks paid their fair share. I’m sick and tired of seeing all the trail problems caused by these large horse pack trains and I’m sick and tired of seeing many fine hunting grounds in Wilderness essentially closed to any foot hunter, because the big time horse packers and outfitters are everywhere (over-staying the 14 day camping limit in many instances, for those not permitted to be there longer).

    • Derek: Lewis and Clark followed well established trails that had been “cleared” for generations and had Indian guides direct them in many locations. Read their journals, for starters. I think you mean “no white people” cleared trails for them, don’t you? Or white people with 20th century equipment? This is what I mean when I say that the Wilderness concept is “racist.” Maybe it is a strong term, but it is also accurate. A common definition of racist is: a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others. The idea that Indians were so “primitive” and that they made such little impact on the landscape they couldn’t even maintain basic trade routes is ridiculous and — unfortunately — very common.

      I don’t think Indians torched the deadfall because: a) it probably only occurred in very isolated areas in the first place, and b) it was far (far) more valuable as fuel for cooking, heating, lighting, etc. And they didn’t have horses or mules at all until whites introduced them in the late 1700s — just another conceit of the Wilderness elite: bikes bad; horses good. Guess which causes the most damage via trammeling, grazing, fertilizing, and weed introduction?

  3. Well, OK, you all know more about wilderness areas than I do, but I have spent time with outfitter guides because I prefer going on horseback to hiking, and don’t have the energy and financial resources to own horses and their accoutrements again.

    I observed that outfitter guides, and other horse folks, also do a great deal of volunteer maintenance of trails. I guess the suggestion is that if it weren’t for them, people would naturally walk around deadfalls.. but isn’t it less impactful to keep people on trails rather than have them make their own?

    Sure, outfitter-guides are “commercial” but they are also providing folks with experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get (e.g., people with infirmities in the backcountry of the San Juans). Not to speak of the mystical connection of people and equines. I think we should listen to what they are really saying.. as a taxpayer I think it’s not as useful to spend x$ to cut deadfall with crosscut saws, when we could spend x-y$ to do the same thing with chainsaws (one week per year?).

  4. Yes, it continues to be true that dead forests make bad Wilderness. Dead forests also make poor “wildlife corridors”, too. There are very few, if any, areas not “trammeled” by man, in one form or another. Much of California’s Wilderness country isn’t well-suited for anything else. Many of them do include longterm human impacts, and are begrudgingly tolerated. Personally, I see no problem with getting this emergency work done as fast as can be done without impacting the land. However, if it impacts humans visiting, so be it. It is best to get it done fast. Of course, I don’t hear anyone talking about how the deadfall affects the trail’s function of reducing erosion. Serious trail erosion does happen when water isn’t allowed to get off the trail, blocked by trees. A fleeting loss of solitude should not “block” the rapid accomplishment of necessary work. After the project is complete, the former policy should return, IMHO.

    Now, about that grazing stuff…..

  5. I don’t have any problem with wilderness. I used to oppose it…about 20 years ago…but I changed my mind. It was a part of multiple use. But it’s good that the public get’s to see the alternative to “managed” forests. It’s good they see what the forests looked like 100 years ago. It’s good they see what could be for the rest of their national forests. It doesn’t take a GIS department to see that the Frank Church has burned and burned again. One of the “hidden truths” that polite society doesn’t like to talk about is the fact that these wilderness areas suffer much more fire mortality than roaded and managed forests. It’s certainly not something the enviro/media establishment wants to talk about. They’ll wax eloquent about the “restoring wildfires,” but they won’t tell us what percent has been cooked off. Maybe Veblen and Schoenagel ought to sic some of their geography grad students on that. I wonder how many fire starts are put out before 10:00 AM on the Lolo every summer. 100? 200? We know something like 95% are snuffed out by 10:00 AM. Any one of which could easily blow up into a 100,000 acre fire if allowed to burn…as in the Frank Church. No…I have no problem with “let it burn” fires in wilderness…but for very different reasons than most. Beside, if humans are denied access, perhaps we could restore millions of acres of critical habitat for grizzly’s and lynx that is being denied now by backpackers.

    I do believe it would take an act of congress to allow chainsaws in wilderness. As more deadfall barricades the trails, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sierra Club themselves endorse it in the not to distant future.”We celebrate wildness, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us too much.”

    A few years ago I was driving along and popped over a hill and the Wind River Range was displayed in all it’s glory before me. I thought to myself, “wow, what this must have looked like in the Mountain Man days. The next thought that immediately popped into my head was “ya…and I’d be looking over my shoulder for the Indian war party.” The pre-settlement utopia was a war zone…whether you be indian or white.Must have been a bit of a buzz kill. Nobody back then came home to their cozy home in Aspen or Missoula after a “tough” week(or day) roughin it in the wilderness area. Just a thought experiment.


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