Middle Fork of Salmon River named top priority for preservation

Apr 22, 2010

The Wilderness Society places Idaho river on list of 29 most critical sites to save

BOISE – The Wilderness Society has named Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River as one of 29 national priorities for protection with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which uses revenues generated from offshore oil and gas drilling leases to acquire critical new lands.

“Imagine floating the wilderness of the Middle Fork of the Salmon and suddenly coming upon clusters of bright, shoulder-to-shoulder private cabins, or a single but enormous, palatial lodge,” says Craig Gehrke, the Idaho director for The Wilderness Society. “Or backpacking along the Middle Fork trail and finding the way forward blocked with a large “no trespassing” sign. Acquisition of private property or the applications of easements make sure these types of structures or actions won’t occur and won’t degrade the wildness of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.”

Middle Fork is considered by many to be the premier wilderness river in the lower 48 states. Running over 100 miles along the north-south length of the 2.3 million acre Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, the Middle Fork offers spectacular white water river rafting with over 300 notable rapids, multi-day backpacking opportunities, habitat for threatened species like the Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, and sanctuaries for iconic wilderness species like wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, bald eagles and wolverines.

During Idaho’s pioneer days homesteaders built ranches along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. These old homesteads and ranches, today abandoned from year-round occupancy, are referred to as “in-holdings” and remain scattered along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and remain privately owned.

Since designation of the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with those private owners to acquire their private lands for public ownership or develop easements designed to maintain traditional uses while preventing actions that would compromise the wilderness character of the surrounding lands.

Over the years, the Forest Service has accomplished a great deal in working with private landowners to keep the Middle Fork Salmon River wild. This year the Morgan Ranch, a 160-acre in holding on the Middle Fork, is available for public acquisition and easement development. Half of the Morgan Ranch is valuable wetland and riparian habitat that’s important to species like moose and sandhill cranes. Streams through the property provide salmon and steelhead habitat.

According to Gehrke, the owner of the Morgan Ranch is interested in pursuing a combination of land sale and easements in order to insure permanent protection of this parcel of land as well as public access. The Wilderness Society will be working with other organizations to gain federal funding for the Forest Service to protect the Morgan Ranch.

“It’s imperative that Congress use the Land and Water Conservation Fund to make investments in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River,” Gehrke says. “This land has long been a part of our outdoors heritage in Idaho. It’s a river that runs through the lives of people across the state.”