Alice Lake

A camper enjoys her morning coffee with a panoramic view of Alice Lake in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

Expecting heavy public use and a dangerous wildfire season, public land managers in south-central Idaho are urging backcountry travelers and road-access campers to be especially careful this summer.

Last year, COVID-related travel restrictions and event cancellations prompted unprecedented numbers of people to take advantage of Idaho’s outdoor recreation offerings.

“We’re preparing for the same amount of visitation that we had last year,” Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Julie Thomas said.

Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson last summer reported “disturbing” amounts of trash and human waste left behind by trail users and more-than-usual use of ATVs and motorcycles on nonmotorized trails.

Thomas noted that the Sawtooth National Forest does not provide trash cans and some other amenities that out-of-state campers may be accustomed to.

“To leave your trash is just not acceptable,” she said.

She said the Forest Service and BLM have been putting out information on proper outdoor behavior this spring in anticipation of another busy camping season.

Backcountry rules for local wilderness areas include restrictions on campfires.

In the Sawtooth Wilderness, a firepan or fire blanket is required. Between July 1 and Labor Day, campfires are prohibited at Sawtooth Lake, Alpine Lake (both of two Alpine Lakes—in the Redfish and Iron Creek drainages), Saddleback Lakes and Goat Lake, as well as everywhere in the Pettit, Yellow Belly Lake and Alpine Creek (tributary of Alturas Lake Creek) drainages.

In the Hemingway-Boulders and Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds wilderness areas, campfires are prohibited above 8,800 feet, except within 200 yards of Walker and Island lakes, Upper and Lower Chamberlain Lakes and Born Lakes.

During the summer, dogs must be kept on a leash. Rules are also in place for use of stock animals, including restricted areas.

In the Sawtooth Wilderness, human waste must be buried at least 100 feet from lakes, creeks and springs; in the Boulder and White Cloud wilderness areas, it’s 200 feet.

Campers within the SNRA outside of wilderness areas must store all food, garbage and any other animal attractants in a hard-sided vehicle or bear-resistant container. Bear-resistant containers are available locally and online.

Camping stay limit in the SNRA has been reduced from 16 days to 10.

Due to dry early-season conditions and abundant fuels, both the Sawtooth and Salmon-Challis national forests moved to “high” fire danger this year in early June. Thomas said she expected the level to be raised to “extreme” by the holiday weekend, with implementation of Stage 1 fire restrictions on public lands in the region.

Under Stage 1 restrictions, open flames, including campfires and stove fires, are prohibited except “within a designated recreation site and in a permanent concrete or metal fire ring.” Additionally, smoking is prohibited, except within a closed vehicle or building, within a designated recreation site or “while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials.” Gas stoves are allowed, but only in areas cleared of flammable material.

For up-to-date information on conditions in the Sawtooth National Forest, go to www.fs.usda.gov/sawtooth. For information on the Salmon-Challis, go to www.fs.usda.gov/scnf. The BLM also issues advisories via its Shoshone Field Office at www.blm.gov/office/shoshone-field-office.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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