A new Forest Service management plan for the 2.4 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness could increase jetboat traffic, and would allow airplanes continued access to four controversial landing strips.
Jetboats and airstrips normally aren’t allowed in wilderness areas, but the 1980 act that established "the Frank" allowed those uses to continue there. Under the new plan, which the Salmon-Challis National Forest released last December after a nine-year environmental impact statement process, noncommercial jetboat use on the Salmon River would be allowed to nearly triple.
The new plan also decreases float boat traffic on both the middle and main forks of the Salmon, and leaves four primitive airstrips open for "emergency use." Environmentalists say many of the 5,500 annual airplane landings throughout the Frank are unnecessary and should be restricted.
The plan also ignores three illegal hunting lodges along the Salmon River, which is officially designated a wild and scenic river. In 2000, a federal judge ruled that the permanent camps — which outfitters failed to remove in 1971 under Forest Service orders — had to go. In 2002, under threat of another lawsuit, the Forest Service ordered the lodges removed by the end of 2005. But in May 2003, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, introduced a bill, which is still pending, to exempt them from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Missoula, Mont.-based Wilderness Watch appealed the new management plan in January. George Nickas, the group’s executive director, says, "Here you’ve got the largest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48, and it’s one where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to experience true wilderness."