The Forest Service will no longer allow outfitter camps in Idaho's Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to feature propane refrigerators, wood cookstoves or piped water.
These changes stem from rulings issued last fall
by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan in response to a
lawsuit filed by the environmental group, Wilderness Watch.
Hogan's orders end an eight-year battle over
caches - permanent storage - in the Frank Church Wilderness. The
camps go back a long way. Outfitters have had fixed camps in the
2.4 million acre wilderness area since at least 1945. These camps
frequently included corrals, piped water systems and bunk beds.
After wilderness designation in 1980, the Forest Service was
directed to rewrite its plans for the six forests in the Frank to
include the removal of caches.
But when F. Dale
Robertson was appointed Forest Service Chief, outfitters found a
sympathetic ear. The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association sued
the Forest Service, and, in a settlement, Robertson agreed to allow
caches and piped water systems in the
Robertson admitted in a Dec. 8, 1992,
speech to Idaho outfitters that he dismissed all legal advice from
his attorneys when he agreed to the caches. "There are some
advantages to being chief. ... I ignored every bit of advice
everybody gave me. Only the chief can do that."
Not only did Robertson ignore a report by the
Office of General Council which found that caches violated the
Wilderness Act, but he also pushed aside the advice of his task
force. It reported in December 1988 that caches were unnecessary,
that the majority of them were unsightly and obtrusive, that most
outfitter camps had unauthorized structures built from native
materials and that caches have a negative impact on the experience
of most wilderness visitors.
Robertson entered into a second agreement with the outfitters on
May 24, 1990, extending the use of caches through 1992. On May 8,
1991, the Forest Service amended the six forest plans to allow
At this point, Wilderness Watch, based in
Missoula, Mont., sued the Forest Service, claiming Robertson's
actions undermined a 28-year national wilderness policy of "pack it
in, pack it out."
Wilderness Watch President
Bill Worf calls Judge Hogan's recent decision a major victory: "It
gives us everything we asked for." The only structures that should
remain in the Frank, he says, are a few corral posts, a few
structures for water collection and some base logs to support tents
on erosive sites.
In addition, the Forest Service
will now assign the 83 outfitter camps on an annual basis.
Previously, some outfitters had used the same camp for more than 30
years and had even advertised specific sites when they sold their
businesses, says Worf.
Grant Simonds, executive
director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, takes
exception to Worf's victory claim. He calls the lawsuit frivolous
since outfitters had voluntarily agreed to remove most caches by
the end of this year. And the new system of annually assigned camp
sites merely fine-tunes the existing system, he
Some environmentalists sympathize with the
outfitters. "Idaho outfitters were crucial to setting the
boundaries of the Frank," points out Pat Ford, a staff member with
Save Our Salmon. "The Frank would have been better served if all
the resources spent on the cache issue had gone to arresting the
slide of the area's salmon toward extinction."
All three parties, however, agree that Judge
Hogan's decision provides an opportunity to work cooperatively.
Hogan has asked the Forest Service for three progress reports on
implementing its remedial plan, and both Wilderness Watch and the
outfitters have been invited to participate.
court case "has helped move outfitting operations along in terms of
closer interpretation of the Wilderness Act," says Forest Service
wilderness specialist Steve Morton. He says other outfitters in the
West will now be closely watching what happens in the
For more information, contact Wilderness
Watch, 208 E. Main, Missoula, MT 59801, (406/542-2048); the U.S.
Forest Service at 406/329-3316; or the Idaho Outfitters and Guides
Association at 208/344-2281.
The writer free-lances
in Missoula, Montana.