During the height of the summer boating season in central Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the sky buzzes with airplanes bound for one of 31 wilderness airstrips. At the Indian Creek airstrip, as many as 50 planes will land in a day. The Montana-based Wilderness Watch says that volume of traffic doesn't belong in the 2.3 million-acre wilderness, which is part of the largest roadless tract in the Lower 48.
Forest Service has an obligation to protect the wilderness and
preserve its character," says George Nickas, the group's director.
"They're doing nothing to control aircraft use."
The Forest Service says closing airstrips is out
of the question. Many are on private land, and the legislation
creating the wilderness area in 1980 stipulates that federal
airstrips remain open.
But the preferred
alternative listed in the new 10-year wilderness management plan
proposes user fees and permits for pilots who take whitewater
boaters, backpackers and hunters into the mountains.
The proposed rules aren't welcomed by pilots,
who fear a restriction in flights.
same as a shuttle service that drives people to the trailhead,"
says Mike Doris, a McCall Air Taxi pilot.
says some pilots abuse the wilderness by making "touch and go"
landings during training flights or just for fun. "Just as mountain
climbers like to bag peaks, we have pilots out there getting their
kicks by landing in difficult airstrips."