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Rattlesnakes common in Selway drainage; why not Lochsa?

WILDLIFE — River rafters, hikers and hunters are keenly aware that rattlesnakes are common on portions of the Selway River.

But why are there virtually now rattlesnakes on the Lochsa River, which joins the Lochsa near Lowell, Idaho, to form the Middle Fork Clearwater River?

Eric Barker, outdoor writer for the Lewiston Tribune made a strike at answering that question in a recent story that pegged on the scene in a Norman Maclean story noting a rattle snake between Grave Peak and Elk Summit.

The Selway is lousy with rattlers and the snakes can be found at some unexpected places, said retired outfitter and packer Jim Renshaw of Kooskia, noting that he killed a rattlesnake on top of Fog Mountain at an elevation of  5,000-6,000 feet.

Chuck Peterson, a herpetologist at Idaho State University, told Barker that rattlers can be found at elevations that would surprise many people. He said it is possible they can survive at Elk Summit, which sits above 6,000 feet.

“Every now and then you get some snakes in some elevations you wouldn’t expect them,” he said. “I don’t know about up there but further south, I think the highest elevations (where rattlers have been found) are near 7,000 feet around Challis.”

Some rattlesnakes will climb a few thousand feet to hunt in the warm summer months, he said. But they generally can’t survive long term at such heights. The seasons there are too short for the females to build up enough energy reserves to reproduce.

“We found out in areas that have less than 58 frost-free days, that seems to be the cut off point.”

But aspect and exposure are important to consider. He said snakes can survive at higher elevations if they are on sun-rich southern exposures.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know why rattlers are in one spot and not another. The Lochsa and Selway rivers are a prime example. The Selway is known for its abundant rattlesnake population and the Lochsa is all but free of them.

Marty Smith of Three Rivers Rafting at Lowell has often wondered why. He has spent much of his life at Lowell where the two rivers join to form the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. He’s never seen one on the Lochsa and has rarely seen them less than 10 miles from the mouth of the Selway.

But starting at the falls and proceeding up stream they are common in some. When Smith is on the river he thinks carefully about where he places his hands and feet. On the Lochsa, he is much more relaxed.

“I’m always surprised I have never ran across any on the Lochsa and on the Selway of course I have seen hundreds of them, if not thousands,” he said. “It’s the same terrain. You walk around on the (Lochsa’s) river bank on a pile of driftwood or bark and I always say, ‘I’m glad I’m not on the Selway right now or I’d be more on my toes, I would probably walk around that.’ ” 

In other words, nobody Barker contacted has yet figure out why rattlers draw the line at the Lochsa.

Weighted lottery could help luckless river permit applicants

RUNNING RIVERS — My wife and I and a dozen friends in our would-be rafting group feel your pain if you didn't draw a coveted permit to reserve a launch date for one of Idaho's four famous wilderness whitewater rivers.

We bombed, too.

The competition is stiff for the annual drawing to run the Salmon, Middle Fork, Selway or Hells Canyon of the Snake.  But it's funny how some groups never get drawn and others seem to luck out and draw a permit every year.

Everyone who applied this year has received a query from the Forest Service, which is considering a weighted lottery for river permits roughly similar to that used in most states for issuing hunting permits.  In other words, every time you apply and don't get selected, you gain chances that give you better odds in the next  year's drawing.

It' a good idea? If you have a stake in this, read these details from the Forest Service and email them your thoughts.

North Idaho outdoorsman Todd Hoffman said he's already replied the Salmon-Challis National Forest with these suggestions for a weighted lottery:

  1. Cap preference points to five.
  2. Limit trips to one per person per year.
  3. Allow pooling of applications and preference points.
  4. Set preference points to zero for any one who draws a permit or who participates in another permit holders trip.
  5. Release any unused commercial launches to private boaters.
  6. Create an online follow up lottery for cancellations.
  7. Implement smaller caps for trip sizes, but create more launches.

River rafters have to be cool with rejection

RIVERS — My group of river-running hopefuls are feeling left out after all of us received “unsuccessful” notices from the annual lottery for summer floating permits on Salmon River through Idaho's River of No Return Wilderness.

The Forest Service permits for the Salmon, Middle Fork, Selway and Hells Canyon of the Snake are highly prized. Although it's disappointing not to draw a permit, nobody would want to go back to the chaos and degradation these most-popular rivers would suffer without regulation and daily group quotas. 

Here's the observation from another unlucky permit applicant from the Northwest Whitewater group:

For those of us who put in for the 4 Rivers Lottery & got skunked once again, I weep with you…
 
For what it's worth, the reason we don't score lottery launch dates isn't bad luck or poor karma. In the case of the Middle Fork, for example, those of us who never draw are victims of the immutable statistical fact that we are among nearly 10,000 applicants each year competing for each season's only 387 available launch permits.
 
[How to even the odds: talk all your boating buds into NOT putting in for permits anymore 'cause it's pointless (LOL)].

No life jacket on the Selway River? God help us

RIVER SAFETY — The number of drownings in the region's rivers this year has prompted a local campaign to get people thinking about reasonable safety practices. 

Most of the victims would be alive today had they been wearing life jackets.

Perhaps the most incredible drowning story of the season involves the University of Idaho Student from Nepal who died of drowning last weekend during a rafting trip on the Selway River.

The Selway is a wilderness river, one of the wildest in the region. Just getting a permit to float the river requires a lot of luck in a draw and a safety orientation.

You could watch a thousand rafters or kayakers go past you on that river over the course of a season and not see a single person without a PFD while on the river.

Life jackets are part of the attire on the Selway, just as rodeo cowboys wear jeans.

Wow. What can you say?

INW News: Still Enjoying Whitewater

Three rafts bounce through Wolf Creek Rapid on the Selway River in 2005. This year's higher-than-average flows are attracting rafters and kayakers to the Selway's post-permit rafting season, which started Monday Lewiston Tribune story here. (Idaho Department of Fish & Game via Lewiston Tribune)

Question: When did you last raft down a river?

Group vows to sue over sewage in Selway River

NATIONAL FORESTS — An environmental group is vowing to sue the Nez Perce National Forest over allegations the agency is allowing undertreated sewage to be discharged into the Selway River and South Fork of the Red River.

Moscow-based Friends of the Clearwater sent letters to forest officials last week alerting them of plans to take the agency to court.

Read on for details.

Last call to apply for Idaho’s “Big 4” rivers

RIVER RUNNING — Applications to get coveted permits for floating the Selway, Snake, Middle Fork of the Salmon, or wild main Salmon rivers for this coming season must be submitted online by Monday.

The shift by the Forest Service to online applications includes a few other new twists:

  • Reservations will be accepted only at the national public lands recreation website: recreation.gov.
  • Each applicant must have a unique e-mail address to create an online profile.

Officials say the new system will be faster and allow applicants to file for more launch options. Safety alerts and notices can be sent to river permit holders as their trips draw near.

Boaters also can use the Forest Service website to make reservations for preseason and postseason launches for the Middle Fork and wild main Salmon rivers.

Idaho river rafting permit deadline Jan. 31

IDAHO RIVERS — Applications to get coveted permits for floating the Selway, Snake, Middle Fork of the Salmon, or wild main Salmon rivers for this coming season must be submitted online by Jan. 31.

The new shift by the Forest Service to online applications includes a few other twists:

  • Reservations will be accepted only at the national public lands recreation Web site: recreation.gov.
  • Each applicant must have a unique e-mail address to create an online profile.

Officials say the new system will be faster and allow applicants to file for more launch options.

Safety alerts and notices can be sent to river permit holders as their trips draw near abouts.

Boaters also can use the Web site to make reservations for preseason and post-season launches for the Middle Fork and wild main Salmon rivers.

Where do the permits go?

The highest number of Idaho's coveted permits for the Selway, Snake, Salmon and Middle Fork Salmon go to the following states, in descending order:  

Idaho, Washington, Oregon.