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Lottery losers may get a break on rafting permits

LEWISTON, Idaho — The U.S. Forest Service is considering upping the odds for unsuccessful lottery permit applicants hoping to float the popular Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers.

Starting in 2015, lottery losers would receive duplicate applications for rafting permits if applying for the same river or rivers for 2016.

If they still don’t come up with a permit, they would receive two duplicates if they entered again the following year. The agency said the number of duplicates would increase each year until an applicant won a permit or stopped entering the lottery.

The agency said it’s taking public comments on the plan through March 15.

“We do get a lot of complaints when people have been trying to draw and don’t get the river they want on the date they want,” said Trish Callaghan, recreation manager for the Salmon-Challis National Forest based in Salmon.

Access is controlled on both rivers during the busy summer season. The odds of winning are about one in 25 for the Middle Fork and one in 47 for the Selway.

“I think for most boaters it sounds like it could improve their chances of pulling one of those permits that are really desirable,” said Clyde Nicely, who works for the rafting supply company Northwest River Supply.

Besides managing the Selway and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers, the Forest Service also manages the main Salmon River and the Snake River in Hells Canyon through the Four River lottery system. Between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31, rafters and kayakers pay a small fee to enter the lottery.

Some people submitting comments have suggested that boaters who get a permit be prevented from entering the lottery for at least a year. But Callaghan said that would increase the cost of administering the program.

“Tracking folks and adding to clerical duties isn’t something we are ready or want to take on right now,” she said. “We are really just trying to get a sense of what people want and get a sense of how much the options might cost us.”

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