There are no “wild and scenic” stretches of river in the national Wild and Scenic River System.
Instead, sections are designated wild or scenic or recreational. Each offers a different level of protection. Which is why the U.S. Forest Service will hear plenty of complaints about its plans to add 20 north-central Idaho rivers and creeks to the system.
Environmentalists want more “wild” miles of river, meaning no roads or other development for a quarter-mile on either side.
Loggers and others who make their living from the federal land want the less restrictive designations. Better yet, they want no designations at all.
“There are two viewpoints, not too much middle ground,” said Jim Paradiso, who coordinates the Forest Service river studies. “It’s pretty much ‘Designate them all wild as much as possible’ or ‘Leave it alone, we have enough government regulation, stay out of it.”’
Morgan Wright wants as much as possible. The rafter is especially concerned about White Sand Creek, a tributary of the Lochsa River near the Montana border.
“It’s unbelievably beautiful and remote. There are four small waterfalls in half a mile. The water is crystal clear.”
But the Forest Service has asked the Pullman doctor and others not to float there this year, in order to protect the nests of rare harlequin ducks. He’s willing to comply, although he’s irked.
“They want to protect it from boaters going down the stream, but they want to allow logging nearby,” he said. “That’s incongruous.”
White Sand (recently renamed Colt Killed Creek) has been one of the most commented-upon of the potential wild and scenic rivers. The Forest Service is recommending that 13 miles of it be “wild,” 6.5 miles “scenic,” and 2 miles “recreation.”
The recreation label is the least restrictive. Basically, it keeps dams from being built.
The rub is between wild and scenic.
“Under scenic you can do timber harvest, you can have occasional roads,” said Paradiso. “It allows more flexibility.”
Alex Irby wants that flexibility to cut trees.
Irby, resource manager for Konkelville Lumber Co., is concerned mostly about the rich timber country surrounding the North Fork of the Clearwater River.
If river designations are too strict, he said, there wouldn’t be a way to get at diseased trees. That could lead to major forest fires that would badly hurt the streams, he said.
“We’ve had a complete disaster with needle pests up there in the lodgepole pine,” said the Orofino manager.
The most comments so far have been about the North Fork and its tributaries. One of them, Kelly Creek, is a nationally famous trout stream.
Although many comments come from the Missoula and Lewiston/ Moscow areas, the Forest Service is fielding comments from people from Seattle to New Jersey.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers recommendations will be explained at four upcoming open houses, each from 3 to 8 p.m.: May 15, Reserve Street Inn, Lewiston; May 16, Clearwater National Forest supervisor’s office, Orofino; May 17, Helm Restaurant, Lewiston; May 18, Nez Perce National Forest supervisor’s office, Grangeville.
The Forest Service hopes to make its final recommendations by the end of the year. Congress will make the final decision.
The rivers fall into three groups.
North Fork of the Clearwater River, 60 miles of recreation river. Kelly Creek, 27 miles wild, 12 miles recreation. Cayuse Creek, 3 miles wild, 28 miles scenic. (Comment deadline: May 26. Information: Brian Hensley, 208-476-3775.)
White Sand (Colt Killed) Creek 13 miles wild, 6 miles scenic, 2 miles recreation. Upper Lochsa River, 2 miles recreation. (Comment deadline: June 6. Information: Dennis Elliott, 208-942-3113.)
Upper Selway Tributaries: Running Creek, 7 miles wild, 13 miles scenic. Bear Creek complex, all wild. Moose Creek complex, all wild. Three Links Creek complex, all wild. Gedney Creek, 2 miles scenic, 3 miles recreation. West Fork Gedney Creek, 5 miles wild, 5 miles scenic. (Comment deadline: June 12. Information: Jim Paradiso, 208-983-1950.)