Following creation of wilderness areas in the White Cloud and Boulder mountains in August 2015, the public now has the chance to provide input on how those areas should be managed.
The Sawtooth National Forest and the BLM are seeking public comments by Jan. 5 and will host public meetings on the recently released plan next week in Ketchum and Stanley. Following the comment period, the agencies will develop a revised plan and environmental assessment, expected for release with a second public comment period next summer.
The Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness encompasses 106 square miles within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, which is administered by the Sawtooth National Forest. The wilderness designation protects 142 square miles within the White Clouds Wilderness, almost all of which is managed by the Sawtooth Forest. The BLM’s Challis Field Office manages 459 acres of that.
The wilderness bill also created a 183-square-mile Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness to the east. The Salmon-Challis National Forest and the BLM gathered public comments on a draft management plan for that wilderness last summer.
The agencies had already been managing the areas as wilderness, and the draft plans contain no drastic changes in direction.
The plan proposes to monitor campsites and user-developed routes to determine if management actions are needed to maintain their wilderness character. Campfires would be prohibited above 9,000 feet, and below that elevation, campers would be required to use fire pans or fire blankets. That restriction is already in effect in the Sawtooth Wilderness.
There are about 95 miles of trail within the White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders wilderness areas. No new trails would be constructed unless they are needed to protect wilderness character.
The plan states that recreational impacts are impacting wildlife, including bighorn sheep. The agencies say the current group size limit of 20 people and 25 head of stock is greater than most campsites can accommodate without unacceptable impact to resources, particularly within sensitive environments such as high alpine lakes. The plan proposes a reduction in use to a maximum of 12 people and 14 saddle and pack animals.
In accordance with the 1964 Wilderness Act, livestock grazing on the 2,138 acres of existing allotments would be allowed to continue. However, the draft plan proposes to manage grazing in a manner that minimizes impacts to wilderness character. The plan notes that current livestock grazing in some areas is not allowing localized areas of grazing impacts to recover.
The draft plan would reduce livestock grazing where it conflicts with forage needs for mountain goats and bighorn sheep. If the Idaho Department of Fish and Game finds that contact between bighorn sheep and domestic animals is occurring, the federal agencies would take measures to reduce the risk of contact. Livestock fences must provide for big-game passage.
The plan indicates that the agencies intend to reduce effects from livestock grazing on fish habitat and water quality in tributaries of the East Fork of the Salmon River, which is on the east side of the White Clouds, and of Slate Creek, on the north side. The plan notes that the East Fork and Warm Springs Creek, in the central White Clouds, contain critical habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout, all of which are on the endangered species list.
Predator control requested by ranchers would be reviewed by the federal agencies to determine the methods to be used. Actions that would involve uses generally prohibited in wilderness areas may be authorized if determined to be the minimum necessary.
The Wilderness Act also allows for development of existing mining claims. There are 55 such claims within the wilderness areas. The plan proposes to allow activities to gather information about mineral resources, while preserving wilderness quality. Mining operating plans would identify impacts to wilderness character and methods for its preservation. Reclamation efforts would have to return the land as closely as possible to its natural condition.
During the past 20 years, 24 wildfires have burned 17 square miles in the two wilderness areas. Of those fires, 17 were caused by lightning and seven by campfires. Most of the acreage burned occurred during the human-caused 2005 Valley Road Fire in the central White Clouds. The draft plan proposes to let lightning-caused fires burn and to decide on suppression of human-caused fires on a case-by-case basis.
The plan proposes to coordinate with Blaine and Custer counties to develop search-and-rescue plans. Use of motorized and mechanized equipment, including medical evacuation by helicopter, may be approved when needed in emergencies.
Dani Mazzotta, central Idaho director for the Idaho Conservation League, said her organization will be reviewing the plan over the next couple of weeks.
“I think [the agencies] have done a comprehensive job at collecting data, looking at data and deciding what makes sense for the White Cloud and Hemingway-Boulders,” Mazotta said.
The draft plan is theoretically available on an interactive website at www.usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=5693f6ff6783482da33cb7c2bf9f12d2. However, some internet users have been unable to access it. The plan is also available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49647.
Comments on the draft plan can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to Sawtooth National Forest, 2647 Kimberly Road E., Twin Falls, ID 83301.
“If it makes sense, they’ll use them,” Sawtooth Forest spokeswoman Julie Thomas said of the planning team.