After months of heated controversy and debate, U.S. Forest Service officials will not try to ban jet boats from a 21-mile stretch of Hells Canyon for 21 days this summer.
Wallowa Whitman National Forest Supervisor Bob Richmond said the agency would defer the no-motors periods until next year when it has resolved questions about access to private lands in Hells Canyon and nearby.
The agency still will require jet boaters to sign up for limited numbers of permits to run the wild section of the Snake this summer. The permit reservation system is the first time jet boat numbers have been limited in the canyon.
Richmond announced the move during a House hearing called by Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, in the Capitol. Chenoweth called the hearing as Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee chairwoman.
“It’s a disappointment,” said Peter Grubb of River Odysseys West in Coeur d’Alene. “But on the other hand, the issue does have to be settled.
“If someone has five acres within the NRA, it must be made clear that they cannot sell 500 shares so they all can have legal access to ‘their’ land. That sort of backdoor scam is already a problem on the main Salmon River.”
Chenoweth called the hearings to review her bill to prevent the Forest Service from imposing the nonmotorized periods.
The bill would guarantee jet boaters access to all reaches of the canyon year around. That was the intent of Congress when it passed the law designating the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in 1975, Chenoweth said.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Forest Service, has introduced a companion bill to Chenoweth’s. Hers is cosponsored by fellow Republicans Reps. Bob Smith of Oregon and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
The Forest Service plan would create no-motors periods on 21 miles of the river where it is protected as a wild river and there would be six or seven no-motors periods each summer from June through August.
“This is a clear violation of the original intent of the law,” Chenoweth said.
The Hells Canyon Alliance, which represents jet boaters and their allies, had campaigned extensively last fall against the no-motors periods, launching a $100,000 advertising campaign. Unhappy jet boaters also formed a symbolic blockade of the river.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction,” said Northwest River Runners president Jim McIver of Lewiston.
McIver said he expects the Forest Service to try to impose the no-motors periods again in 1998.
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