Endangered salmon leave rafters dry

  In Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area, rafters are butting heads with the U.S. Forest Service over regulations meant to protect endangered chinook salmon.

This summer, four rafting companies filed an appeal to a plan that would keep boats away from spawning grounds in the upper Salmon River after late August. They said the Forest Service had violated federal law by basing its regulations on speculation. "I'm not saying we do not have an effect (on the salmon)," said Erasmo Paolo, who manages one of the rafting companies. "But in the absence of science, we should not be regulated."

Rob Jones, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that any interaction between boaters and spawning salmon should be avoided. "These fish are really close to being stressed out," he said, describing their 900-mile, six-month migration from the Pacific. "They need someplace where they can get away from disturbances."

The rafters' appeal was rejected on all counts, but they may still be allowed on the river this fall. Paul Ries, area ranger, said the companies have a choice: They can carry their boats around spawning grounds and pick up a $15,000 tab for monitoring the fish, or stay off the river altogether.

*Greg Hanscom