Protect our Roadless Lands, and Protect the Beautiful State of Idaho
|© Scott Stouder|
|Scott Stouder in Idaho's Frank Church
River of No Return Wilderness
Last month my wife and I packed into Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for a two- week hunt to renew our spirits and our winter meat supply.
We saw elk, moose, deer and the tracks of wolves, cougar and bears. We watched blue, ruffed and spruce grouse. We marveled at the mosaic of wildlife habitat shaped by centuries of wildfire and the miracle of Chinook salmon spawning in crystal streams hundreds of miles from the ocean.
We also saw other hunters: four backpackers from Washington, others from Oregon and California. Two drove from West Virginia. One of the horse groups trailered their horses from Florida.
After packing out of the mountains, two hunters drove up to us at the trailhead on their ATVs and asked whether we’d had any luck. I said yes, both my wife and I had killed bulls. “You’re lucky,” one said. “We’ve been hunting all week and haven’t seen an elk.”
The other one looked around at the horse trailers, pickups and stock trucks, then pointed at our license plate. “Yours and ours are the only Idaho plates here,” he grumbled.
I finished loading a horse and looked at the two. “We must have something that other states don’t have.”
After they left I wondered whether they knew what the hunters from West Virginia, Florida, Washington and Oregon knew — that Idaho’s unroaded lands cradle some of the best wildlife habitat and wilderness hunting experience in the world.
Idaho’s 4 million wilderness acres and 12 million acres of unprotected roadless land have become this state’s most valuable natural asset. In the Interior Columbia River Basin, 60 percent of the best remaining trout and salmon habitat, 85 percent of the healthiest populations of all western cutthroat trout species and 76 percent of the remaining healthy populations of bull trout are found in roadless areas. In Idaho roadless areas provide roughly one-third of inland habitat for Chinook salmon and trout.
Studies also show that Idaho’s rural economic base is shifting. In 2001 the salmon/steelhead season generated nearly $90 million in rural Idaho. That same year, in the small town of Riggins near my home, fishing brought in $10 million — one quarter of its annual income.
But there’s a hitch. Salmon, trout and steelhead are largely dependent upon pristine water protected by roadless areas. And those areas are shrinking. Between the late 1980s and 1997, more than 1 million acres of Idaho’s roadless lands were lost. This “leakage” is still occurring. And not just from traditional road construction. Illegally created ATV trails in our national forests were recently listed as one of four major threats, alongside wildfires, by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.
The antidote is permanent protection for our last roadless lands, including wilderness designation. Current efforts to protect these lands in places such as the Owyhee Canyonlands and the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains reflect that reality.
I was thinking about this as my wife and I began the drive home from the trailhead. But mostly I was thinking of how lucky we are to live in Idaho.
© 2003, by Scott Stouder