A Sawtooth Celebration
For almost a hundred years, various political leaders pushed to make the Sawtooth Mountains Idaho's first national park.
But it was not to be.
Instead, in 1972 the Sawtooths—along with the White Cloud and the Boulder Mountains—became part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, administered not by the National Park Service but by the U.S. Forest Service.
How this came to be is a story worth the telling. Forty years ago, Idaho was at the forefront of the nation's environmental movement, electing a governor who pledged to save Castle Peak and the White Clouds from the degradation of an open-pit mine.
We celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area by examining this remarkable period in Idaho's history, exploring what was gained, what was lost and what is yet to be considered.
A Sawtooth Celebration
We celebrate the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho.
Cecil Andrus was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970, when he took a position against mining in the White Clouds. It was one of the issues that pitted him against then Republican governor Don Samuelson. Andrus went on to win and served four terms as governor. He also served as Interior Secretary under President Jimmy Carter. Producer Greg Hahn conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
How did you get involved in the White Clouds issue?
In spite of what people say, I'm a lumberjack and a political accident. I ended up in the state senate at age 29. Ten years later I ended up being governor of the state of Idaho. I've been involved in the environmental conservation movements all of my adult life. Of course, probably without question Castle Peak was a big, big political issue that helped catapult me — a Democrat — into the governor's chair, a Democrat there for the first time in 24 years. Then once we were there we handled the national recreation area in the Sawtooths. We handled the Hells Canyon NRA; we handled the wild and scenic rivers; we did away with the access to Castle Peak to protect that. The list goes on and on.
And then I was fortunate enough to be requested, selected, directed, however you want to say it, by President-elect Jimmy Carter to be his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, where once again I had the opportunity to help with the wilderness area which we now call The Frank. It was in the old declaration after the act of 1964 where we made the decisions as to what should be wilderness. However, it took from 1973-4 to 1980 and the lame duck session to get it passed through the Congress; and that's the River of No Return wilderness area which we now call The Frank Church River of No Return wilderness. So that was another of my babies.
The biggie, of course, was the Alaska Lands issue and with the passage of that again, in the lame duck session of 1980, we more than doubled the total acreage of national parks, refuges. We created, for the first time, park preserves which allowed for hunting by the subsistence hunters in land that was managed by the Park Service.
I've been fortunate to have a lot of help by a lot of people to bring about success in these areas. No one person does it by themselves. There are many beautiful areas in the world, but not all of them have the protection that we have now in some of these. You and I will be dead and gone, but future generations will come here and see the Sawtooths with snow on it, the beautiful lakes that we have here. Future generations are entitled to benefit as we have. The good Lord didn't put us here to change what we have. We were put here to enjoy it, but to also make certain that we didn't alter it or destroy it.
How did Castle Peak resonate so much with you? After all, you weren't known as a big environmentalist back then.
Wait a minute, you are totally crazy that just because I worked as a lumberjack doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate or enjoy the outdoors. I hunted, I fished, I recreated, I camped. Not every lumberjack goes out and destroys the world, so I was fortunate enough to work in an area and with people who championed the protection of areas. You take Potlatch forest back in those days, when I started. When they would take a public timber sale, they would just denude the ground, but they protected their own deeded property in a different manner. So those things took place; but no, I don't admit to being a crazy wild eyed lumberjack. I was a productive, constructive lumberjack working to support my family, but I cared about the environment.
Now Castle Peak, Ernie Day brought that issue to me with his camera. He had photos of Castle Peak; he had photos of Railroad Ridge the way they had destroyed it and he said, Cece, you've got to come look at it. I did. You climb up to Castle Peak, go down the other side to Frog Lake, look across the Railroad Ridge and see the destruction that had taken place; and what they wanted to do was a crime. And I said No, we're not going to let that happen, and we didn't. And that issue alone probably accounted for the margin of victory that I had in 1970, which was about 10 or 11,000 votes.
It's interesting that, after all those years of seeking protection for the Sawtooths, that this was the issue that pushed it across the finish line.
People were concerned. They were talking about it 50 years prior to that, but it was coming to a head. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 is what created the activity and the interest. You look at additional Park Service, you look at NRAs, you look at those areas that should have some level of protection. Not all of them qualified, and they fell through the screening process. But I think that it was probably Boyd Norton and some of his friends from the Idaho Falls area that struck the match to get the discussion going in 1972, but then I found out that the Park Service was already out here looking at the area.
I met with Senator Frank Church quite a few times, and we decided, hey, if you make this beautiful valley a park, it will attract so many people that they'll tromp over one another. It can't stand that much pressure. Also, you couldn't allow hunting and fishing, which was a big thing here. One of the few times we differed with some of our other conservation friends; we said NRA is the way to go. Was that right? Was that wrong? I don't know, but that's the way it went. But today it is protected, and you have the Forest Service managing it instead of the Park Service. It probably isn't that much difference in what it ended up.
A very important part of it that we haven't talked about is the Boulder White Clouds. And the reason that we should move to get the Boulder White Clouds into wilderness protection is every day you wait, every season that goes by, some of the very reasons that it qualifies for wilderness are being destroyed by off-road vehicles, or indiscriminate activities with powered equipment; and it destroys what really makes it possible to fit into a wilderness situation. So it's very important that that take place now. The time is now.
You brought up the idea of using the Antiquities Act to save the Boulder White Clouds?
I talked to Ken Salazar. You have to understand that former Secretaries and Secretaries have kind of an understanding that you have confidential discussions, and you don't violate them. I talked to him personally about it, I hand carried a letter to him with my thoughts on that subject matter. I also put one inside the White House. I did not have the opportunity to talk to the President, but I talked to a person who was very, very close to the President and gave him a copy of the letter and said this is what should be done.
It hasn't happened, and Ken's comment — I'd like to think that Salazar was caught off guard by the press — they said, well, are you considering Antiquities Act designation of the area? And he said, not at this time because there has not been a great push by the public requesting it. There never is, until after you do it, and then you get the benefits of it.
Orval Hansen was Idaho's U.S. Congressman from the Second District when the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established in 1972. He talks about the behind-the-scenes politics of getting the SNRA bill through Congress. Hansen spends part of each year in lower Stanley. He is the only living member of that 1972 Idaho Congressional delegation. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
When did this notion of a national park for the Sawtooths first take hold?
There was a women's club in the Magic Valley somewhere who came up with the idea, and this was a project for them, and it was the early part of the 1900's. No one really paid much attention to it, and then finally I think it was Addison T. Smith who was the first Congressman from this district who pushed a bill; and he couldn't get very far, and various members were for it and then against it.
Senator Borah was for it and then against it when the cattlemen turned against it. Nothing really happened until Frank Church was elected in 1956, and then he took it on as a project and got nowhere because there was no real sense of urgency about it. But he would try his bill, and then it wouldn't go anywhere, and then it was not until there was a visible threat to the scenic values here that other people paid attention. Those who live here were herding sheep, and they were raising cattle, and they were in timber and mining; all of these things would be affected certainly by a national park, which would involve the acquisition of the property by the government so there was no real move to take any action, until ASARCO, in looking into the White Clouds, determined that there were valuable mineral deposits there, and then began the process of gaining the rights to mine those minerals.
Then you got a lot of attention by people who were concerned about the environmental impact and some on the other side who saw this as a great economic benefit. Then people began to take an interest. But you still had a lot of opposition in this area, and a lot of those who were dealing with the government agencies were not too enthusiastic about it, and particularly about the park option, because the park involved government acquisition and the elimination of these other land uses.
But the four of us in the Congress, with Frank Church's initial support, finally got together. And we were concerned about the potential damage to the scenic values of this area, so we came together and decided that we would introduce the same legislation. Frank had tried a couple of times before and got a bill passed in the Senate because he had great stature in the Senate, and we'd go to the House committee, and it would die there.
And so he concluded that he had to get the two Congressmen on board and also to get Senator Len Jordan on board. Len was never an advocate of the park option, but he would support another concept which was fairly new in government land management, called a Recreation Area, and it anticipated the preservation of the land in its use.
The grazing and other uses that were compatible with its number one priority — which would be recreation — if it was compatible with recreation, then the land could be owned by the individual landowner. Len said he would support that, and so he went on the bill with Frank Church to create a national recreation area.
But then the other problem was, you had to get it through the House. And I introduced a bill, which turns out was the bill that the President finally signed. It was my bill introduced in the House. And of course it went to the Interior Committee that had jurisdiction; but nothing was happening there.
What role did Jim McClure play?
You had to get Jim McClure on board, because he was a very highly respected and effective member of the Interior Committee and was highly regarded by the Chairman, Wayne Aspinall from Colorado. But Jim didn't go on my bill initially. He still had some questions about handling the mining claims, because all of this was open for mining, and there were a lot of mining claims filed all over. And so he hesitated until he could satisfy himself that they could be properly handled. He then joined on my bill.
The Senate passed their bill again; it came over and the key was getting Wayne Aspinall to schedule a hearing to say, this is a bill that we are going to move. It had to have his blessing, and I think it was Jim McClure's value to the committee that persuaded him, in a large measure, to get behind that bill and say, okay, we're going to move it.
Did the members of the Interior Committee come to Idaho?
It was the policy of the Interior Committee that they would never consider any bill of this kind — a park bill, any such a bill — until they had had field hearings; and so that meant that we had to come out and have hearings so that we could listen to the various organizations and people that would be affected by the legislation. We got the hearings out here. I think it was probably 1971. The day before we had the hearings, the Forest Service flew all the members of the sub-committee all over the area, so that they could see the great beauty of the land.
A colleague of mine, who was from Oklahoma, flew in one of these little 3-seaters with the pilot going all over to see the mountains and the lakes and so forth. And just as we were going over the tops of the Sawtooths, the chopper lost its hydraulic pressure, and so it could not maintain altitude, and so it began slowly losing altitude. My colleague was sitting in the center and the pilot had him manually operate a pump that would help. It wouldn't maintain the hydraulic pressure, but it would reduce the rate of it being depleted. So we sort of coasted over the top of those mountains and gradually went down and landed in John Breckenridge's pasture.
It landed up at the far end of the valley where Breckenridge's ranch is, and then a car picked us up and we joined the rest of them. And we thought that was quite an exciting adventure, my friend and I. The Forest Service almost had kittens because they confessed to me years later at one of our reunions that they were really concerned about that.
So it was a pretty close call as to whether this was even going to happen?
Yes, and the really hairy part comes in right toward the end, but to pick up the sequence, that same day that all of our subcommittee members arrived — and there was Roy Taylor from North Carolina who was a chairman — they took us all by chopper up to Lake Toxaway, so we could stay overnight. It was just beautiful, because you could see down in the valley, the White Clouds and the sun setting; it just lighted up the White Clouds.
They were fishing, and fortunately Roy Taylor caught some fish. Now we've always accused the Forest Service of having some guy dive down and hook the fish on, but they deny that. Roy Taylor was impressed.
Tell us about the hearings in Sun Valley.
We gathered the next day at the Opera House in Sun Valley, and we had the hearings. There was pretty substantial support, but some of them didn't want anything. The least of the evils was the Forest Service. They would rather have the Forest Service that they kind of knew and would work with, rather than the Park Service, which would involve losing all their land.
And among those that testified was Mary Hemingway. But it was a good hearing, and it persuaded the subcommittee to go forward. We had later hearings also in Washington, and there we were trying to deal with this question of the mining, a mining entry, and how would we handle it, and I think they finally reached a compromise; Jim McClure played a big part, because he was one of the best informed and most articulate members of that whole committee, and understood the issues. But they finally worked out an agreement that would continue the mining for five years, and then it would be extinguished until there would be no further entry after that.
Tell us about the last-minute surprises on the House floor as this bill came up for debate.
The bill was slated to come to the floor of the House for debate and final passage. And we thought everything was going very well. And then it was only just within probably the last week before the bill came to the floor, there was a movement in Idaho among some who were environmentalists, who had come together, and they had an interest in this. In fact, most of them had wanted a national park, but they would accept this, but they did not want any mining. They wanted that to be extinguished immediately. Well, Chairman Aspinall had worked hard in getting that agreement, and so he was going to send the bill to the floor as it was.
A day or two before we had the debate and the vote, you had some other groups who were speaking up, and what they were saying is this bill should be sent back to committee, so that you can change it in committee and add this language prohibiting the mining entry. It was a little disconcerting to me, but I didn't see any real major problem in the passage because it sort of came fairly late. There were some people — who I won't name — who were fairly prominent in endorsing that procedure. And also a daily newspaper that I won't name also endorsed that procedure, but it came too late.
Had the environmental movement been organized as it later was, they could have flooded Congress with telegrams, and they could have killed that bill — or sent it back to committee.
The flaw in that strategy was that Wayne Aspinall was probably the most successful chairman in the House in a long time, and he gave his personal blessing, and he gave a very powerful speech on behalf of this bill. If you had voted on the House floor to send it back to committee for the purpose of this one amendment, and then bring it back and pass it, it wouldn't happen. You don't shove a bill back at Wayne Aspinall and say, you correct this and send it back. That would be the end of it.
And before you could get the public support, the cost would have gone up, because it involved millions of dollars to buy scenic easements to get it started. There were already developments in the Sawtooth valley — honky-tonk, cheap type buildings and little settlements — and it would have gone out of control and the cost of then acquiring the easements and getting rid of that development would have been prohibitive. My point was that ours was a very narrow window.
The environmentalists had a friend in Congressman John Saylor from Pennsylvania; and Saylor, came from a fairly well-to-do family, and the family had been out into this area when he was young, so he knew it. But he also knew the legislative process, and he came to me just before the debate began and almost apologetically he said, ‘Orval, I've got to vote against that bill and I'm going to speak against it.' I was surprised; and he said, ‘my people expect me to do that,' and my people being environmental groups that he was associated with. But it didn't appear that it was going to be a big problem, but I was surprised.
Several of us participated in the debate, and Aspinall made a very strong speech in favor of it, as did Roy Taylor, the sub-committee chairman. And then Saylor spoke right at the end, and it was not a stem-winding speech. It was a fairly modest speech, explaining his opposition to the bill. And it wasn't until later when I reflected on what had happened and trying to understand where Saylor was coming from, I concluded and I believe now that Saylor understood the process that was unfolding' and he knew that bill had to pass, and he knew it had to pass now. He did his job. He stood up, and he opposed it and gave all the reasons for it, but, had he said, ‘I'll take the lead in trying to defeat this bill,' he would have mobilized all the environmental groups, and had them send telegrams. Most of the members of the House, they'd never heard of this until it came to the floor, so they supported it; but had there been a major lobbying effort in advance, they might have been successful. So we were just plain lucky.
So you got the bill through the House. What happened in the Senate?
You've got Frank Church and Len Jordan, each senior positions on the Interior committee; the fact that they were both for it, you don't need to ask any other questions. They passed it. And so the House bill went to the Senate, and they sent it to a conference committee, which they do when there are differences, and the conference committee met and resolved the differences very quickly. And what they did was to approve an amendment which effected an immediate withdrawal from the mineral entry. So they did what all of the environmentalist groups and the nay-sayers were trying to get done; and it came back to the House and it was going to be passed unanimously — just an approval of the conference report.
Another historic tidbit. The House had been working on an electronic voting system, so we didn't have to take a half hour to call the roll. And it was all ready to go, and our bill, the conference report, was the next item up. So this was the first time that they ever used this electronic voting system. And it passed 100%.
So it got signed into law. We'd won over the administration — they're always very skeptical about these things — but the administration, which was Nixon, became supportive. But we had to get the money to implement it, and the place you would look for is this Land and Water Conservation Fund; it is used for these kinds of projects. But there are 10 projects for every one that can be funded, and so we had to get the money there.
The bill authorized many tens of millions of dollars to get that started; and the administration released those funds, so they could begin acquiring scenic easements, which means that you sell your right to build beyond a certain level so that you can preserve in natural form all the great places of scenic beauty, and the recreation opportunities we have here.
What's the take-away from all this?
The point that I would leave — and most people don't know — is, had we not passed that bill at that time, you would be looking wall to wall development in this valley. The scenic beauty of the mountains and the lakes is something that has a market value; and we saw, particularly around Obsidian, which is where it was getting started, but you would have had it all up and down this valley. And when you finally realize that we made a mistake, and we've got to go back and do it over, the cost of acquiring the easements on those lands would be absolutely prohibitive.
So I think maybe one can say the good Lord was with us on this one, and we can be so grateful that, as a result of that good luck and some real statesmanship by a lot of people, we have preserved and will for all time one of the greatest scenic treasures on the earth.
I have heard that some folks want to rename Mount Heyburn in honor of James McClure. Have you heard that?
I haven't heard that. I'm one to believe and I've said that Jim McClure was the key to this. Now, Frank had done the initial work to look at the options and to build public support. But in the critical moment when we had to enlist the chairman, Wayne Aspinall, to get behind it and to schedule hearings, it was Jim McClure.
He was as gifted a legislative technician as I have ever seen. We were together in the state Legislature and I saw it there and then in the Congress. When we'd have hearings, he knew what to ask, and he knew how to frame the language that would carry out the committee's purpose. When he finally joined as a co-sponsor of my bill, when he finally did that and told the chairman we'd like to have hearings and move this forward, that was what did it.
You can name anything you want for him.
Boyd Norton was one of the organizers of the Greater Sawtooth Preservation Council, and an early opponent of the proposed open pit mine in the White Clouds. He was also a nuclear scientist working in eastern Idaho. Producer Greg Hahn conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What was it about the proposed mine in the White Clouds that galvanized opposition?
Putting an open pit mine into an area is the ultimate desecration of a place. Castle Peak and the White Clouds is so beautiful and pristine it should have been made a wilderness area or a primitive area a long time ago. What got us fired up was the prospect of the complete and utter destruction of this beautiful area by putting an open pit mine in. One of the things that was interesting about this battle — and also the battle we fought in Hells Canyon — is that some of the people who were pushing these projects were really kind of stupid. They made such outrageous statements that we could turn those around in our own defense and point out to people how absurd these things were that they were pushing.
For example, ASARCO officials, when they made the first pronouncements about developing this molybdenum mine at the base of Castle Peak, were talking about the fact that, well, certainly we're going to make a big hole, but we're going to fill it in when we're done; and then we're going to have a beautiful lake there from the tailings pond, and it will be a recreation area for people. I took some photographs of that Henderson Mine up near Leadville, Colorado, and the tailings pond that they had there. That was certainly no recreation lake. It was a pile of sludge and muck and who knows what the mixture was that went into that of heavy metals and all kinds of carcinogens. So we were able to say, do you want this in the White Clouds?
Later I went in there on a backpacking trip and took a number of photographs right in the exact spot that they were talking about putting the open pit mine and the tailings pond, and then we juxtaposed those with pictures from the Henderson Mine and said, this is what the White Clouds are going to be like. I think that was a good rallying point for people — even people who weren't necessarily hard core conservationists here in Idaho.
There are a lot of people who live in Idaho who may not be hard core conservationists, but they really appreciate what they have here; and when you have something that is so threatening and damaging as an open pit mine, I think that makes people sit up and take notice. Are we really doing the right thing by developing it? Sure, there will be jobs. Sure, it will bring money into the state; but is it worth it? What about the quality of life that we have here? That's the kind of thing that was a driving force for a lot of us.
Do you think the Sawtooths alone would have taken it to the next level of protection if it hadn't been for the controversy in the White Clouds?
That's a good question. I think the controversy over the White Clouds was a real catalyst for preserving the whole area around here — the Sawtooth range and the Boulder and Pioneers and so on. I think it made people sit up and realize that we've got a real important wilderness resource here.
I think the fight over the White Clouds probably speeded up that process considerably, because when we formed this organization called the Greater Sawtooth Preservation Council, it meant just that — the greater Sawtooth region, which included the White Clouds and the Boulders. It was something that I think sparked that movement to get the whole region preserved, to put it into some kind of a classification.
Initially, we wanted a national park, the reason being it certainly would have make it much more difficult for ASARCO to develop that mine. Whenever you threaten a national park, I mean it's like God, mother and country. A national park is something kind of sacred in the minds of many people. So it really was important, we felt, to push for a national park. Of course, later we got talked out of it. I still think it might have gone through, if we had pushed hard enough. It's not that the current SNRA is bad. I think the level of protection is good that we have right now. We still have to push to get the White Clouds and the Boulder Mountains protected as wilderness areas. I think that is Priority Number One right now.
What about the mining claims currently in the White Clouds?
Cece Andrus pointed out this morning that those are patented mining claims, and under the 1872 Mining Law, whoever owns those patented claims could go ahead and develop it. It doesn't mean they would, because there is a whole process that would have to be done to give them access to those mining claims — unless they wanted to go in and develop the mine and take everything out by helicopter, which obviously is not practical. They would have to have access roads, and that was one of the issues, of course; and the White Cloud battle initially was, would the Forest Service issue a permit for them to build an access road in there?
If a national park were established, it would be much more difficult for them to get access. It wouldn't have necessarily negated their patented mining claim, because under that stupidly antiquated 1872 mining law, anyone can patent a mining claim, and they can mine away whatever is there. Under the rule of law, there is what is called a "Prudent Man" aspect of that law, which says, would a prudent man go in and mine that ore if there were all these obstacles, economic and environmental, against them doing that? Well, they went ahead and filed and eventually they were patented. But they still have to get Forest Service assessment of the Environmental Impact of putting in access roads to the place. So we pushed hard on that to stop it. So there were all these different aspects, and finally ASARCO gave it up.
The road created the excuse for public hearings. Those big public moments seem to have a lot to do with turning the momentum around.
At that hearing in Sun Valley, all of us were limited to 3 minutes, because there were hundreds of people at that hearing. And then even toward the end, they said you've got one minute; otherwise, we aren't going to finish. And I think 99.9% of the people who testified there were absolutely against that mine. That had to have shaken the mining community and ASARCO right to their core, seeing that sort of outpouring.
I think maybe people didn't understand that there was a growing conservation movement taking place here in Idaho, and some of it began with that McGruder — Carter hearing in 1966 that four of us from Idaho Falls drove over to Boise and testified at. And we discovered there are a bunch of people over here who feel the same way: Mort Brigham from Lewiston, and Ernie Day and Bruce Bowler, Ted Trueblood, and we began to communicate with each other.
When this battle came up over the White Clouds, and we started the Greater Sawtooth Preservation Council, it wasn't just a bunch of us getting together in Idaho Falls and drinking beer and commiserating over the White Clouds. We began to communicate with other people around the state. We published a newsletter. We were communicating among ourselves and with others. I remember there were garden clubs, there were bird watching groups, and we appealed to some of the hunting and fishing groups as well. Even though we didn't see eye to eye sometimes on land preservation issues like national parks — because national parks don't allow hunting — we had the same feeling about the need to preserve these places, and so we were in communication with fishing groups and hunters.
You've got to remember all this was long before the internet, long before email and instant communication and Facebook and everything else. It took weeks, months and years sometimes to rally the troops and get the word out about some of these battles. We started to build some strong coalitions among people and organizations here in the state, so it wasn't a surprise that that many people turned out. We beat the bushes to get them to turn out. That's how we got them there.
What about Ernie Day?
He was an outdoorsman; he was a backpacker, he was a fisherman, he hunted. And if you have to go back and look at the history of the conservation movement here in Idaho, he was probably the pioneer, maybe he and Ted Trueblood and Bruce Bowler, all at the same time. Ernie was a great photographer too, he had that one aerial photograph that he made of Castle Peak. Ernie was multi-talented. He was a good speaker, also. Boy, he could turn heads when he got up to give a statement at a hearing. So he was a very, very powerful conservation force here. I was really sad when I heard that he passed away last year.
It's hard to say. You are kind of second guessing. Yeah, there is some truth in the fact that a national park has a different meaning for people who don't live in the area, people from back east and people from California or the Midwest. A national park is something special in the minds of people, and we've kind of made it that way, haven't we? A national park is kind of a special place. It is more protective than a national forest or a Sawtooth National Recreation Area under the Forest Service. That doesn't mean that the Forest Service can't or won't do a good job of protecting the area, and probably in much the same way that the park would.
There is some merit to the argument that yes, a national park might attract a lot more people. I'm not sure that is entirely true, but it has happened in a lot of places. So yeah, we are attracting a lot of people to them, and the old cliché ‘we're loving them to death,' it's happening unfortunately; but I'm not so sure that it won't eventually happen here, as well.
You know, you can't freeze a place in time if they discover it. It's kind of a sad commentary on our society that we've grown so much as a country in population. We are more mobile than ever; we travel; we have more disposable income. We're more outdoor recreation oriented, more and more and more people are coming to these places. I almost shudder to think if I could strap a pack on my back and head up into the Tetons or maybe up to Alpine Lake or Sawtooth Lake in the wilderness here in the middle of summer, I'd almost bet that there would be a hell of a lot of people there.
Erica Jensen wrote her university Masters thesis on the controversy leading up to the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It was entitled "Hysterical Preservationists and Gouge-and-Run Bulldozer Boys: The Land Use Controversy in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains." Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
A backpack trip into the Sawtooths led to your thesis?
It did. I was really interested in an area that could tell a story that really intersected politics and policy and land use; and I don't think you could find a better story than Castle Peak in the 1960s and '70s. It's just such an interesting mix of where federal land management was going, where state politics were going, and the rising recreation and tourism industry.
And what did you come away with?
I think what I came away with from that project was… it came full circle. Here I was researching Idaho in another state and part of that was great because I was able to delve into archives; and you can learn about a place in an interesting way from books and newspaper articles and really doing the research. But what was neat was when I went and saw Castle Peak at the end of my thesis. It just all came back to "place" — and you realize that's why it's so powerful to so many people, because it is such an incredible place, and you can't get that unless you're there.
People are so connected that it brings out a certain passion that I think is hard to account for, if you were writing the story the way you thought it would go. So it really made me appreciate the nuances and the fact that big decisions still come down to people and places and individual understanding of places. It's not a text book version. It's a thing that is influenced by place, and you can't really separate it from the landscape itself.
Were there some individuals who really intrigued you during your research?
If I could go back in history and meet someone, Frank Church would definitely be at the top of the list. I think he did amazing things for the state and for our land and natural resources, both he and Andrus.
You start reading letters from these people, and you feel like you are inserted into the world in a very personal way; and I think that was the most rewarding aspect of doing this research. You read these letters that Frank Church was writing to his constituents or his close allies he was working with on this project; it almost feels like you shouldn't be there. You feel like you are inserting yourself into this other time and this other place. Forty years after the fact, you feel like you've been let into their inner circle, and that was a neat feeling.
Ernie Day would definitely be one that I would love to sit down and have a conversation with. You realize the personal work that these people put into this, and it just makes you appreciate it so much more, because they are investing their hearts and their souls — at the expense of other things — into doing this. That really was a gift for all Idahoans, and I just respect that more than I can possibly say.
Wasn't this one of the classic environmental issues that led to the election of a governor?
It was. It was a really big deal in Andrus' election, and I think one of the media outlets was quoted as saying this really propelled him to be the first governor that was elected on an environmental platform. To me, I didn't expect to find that here in Idaho. That wasn't what I set out to look for, and it was interesting that such a national movement really was front and center here in Idaho.
It was kind of the perfect storm of the way things came together in Idaho with it being an election year, the way the tensions had been there festering for really decades. It was an interesting story to find that really here in Idaho we were at the heart of the environmental movement.
How big was this issue in Idaho and the nation?
It was one of the most talked about issues by the late 1960's in Idaho. What really did a lot to propel Idaho into the national spotlight was this 1970 article in Life Magazine. And it took these peaks that were far away from Boise, far away from a lot of population centers, and it made them a national issue.
There were people who were writing from New York, from across the country, who all of a sudden felt invested in this place; and I think it is because they could relate to similar landscapes near their home town. It brought this issue front and center to the nation, that we had to decide what was the best use for these landscapes. Who was going to manage them? And how do we deal with those competing interests that were all vying to manage these really special areas? So the 1970 article did a lot to really put this in a national spotlight.
I think the biggest surprise was that I couldn't predict what people were going to do. Even when people thought everyone was on-board for a national park and a recreation area complex — which had been a recent development that had just been passed in Washington — everything pointed to that being the endgame at that point.
That's the interesting part of doing history — you don't get all the pieces; so there are chunks in the middle where something changed; and you have to piece those together. But you don't get to know exactly what happened behind closed doors and the conversations that were going on with re-elections. And all of a sudden it's off the table, and it's definitely just a national recreation area.
The same thing with the bill coming through Congress, and there being thoughts that certain protections were going to be removed from the bill as it made its way through the conference committee. I think people would have put money on that at that point. You don't know until it's done, and there are always surprises — and whether that's because of elections or because of pressure from the public, there's really no way to tell exactly what is going to happen. And I think that's what makes a story like this an interesting one, because it is nuanced. It is a nuanced story of people and places and how they relate to the land there.
What does this story tell us about Idaho?
I think it definitely tells the rest of the world how much Idaho cares for its landscapes. People are passionate about Idaho, and I haven't met many Idahoans who wouldn't agree with that. People are here because we love the landscape here. We love the opportunities it affords; we love the peace; we love that we can drive five minutes or two hours, depending on where you are, and you can feel like you are alone in the world. And I think that matters a lot to Idahoans.
And I think the passion around this issue was really remarkable — from all the different sides. People really cared about what happened here, so much so that the rest of the nation started caring, too. I think that would be surprising at first that this was such a big issue for the time, because it's not like the world was without other problems at the time. But this mattered. This mattered to Idahoans.
I was struck by how they found a solution that worked for Idaho. They really did; and when I come up here 35 or 40 years after the fact, I can't imagine this place being any different than it is now. And I think that if it had been a national park, it could have gone differently. We've all been to national parks where maybe we felt a little more like we were at Disneyland than in the great outdoors. And I think that what people appreciate about this area is the wilderness, is being part of the land, feeling like you are out here alone in the heart of Idaho. That could have turned out differently.
Any hopes for the future of this place?
I hope that Idahoans just continue to care. I don't think that's an issue. I think people are passionate about their landscapes. I hope that my kids will come up here and enjoy it the way I have. I hope that the land management continues to really look at the whole landscape, with people as a part of that, and that this continues to be really a source of pride for Idahoans the way it is today.
Tom Kovalicky became district ranger of the Stanley Ranger District in 1970. He later went on to become the Supervisor of the Nez Perce Forest. He is now retired and living part-time in Stanley. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
Why did the Forest Service send you to Stanley from Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 1970?
At the time they were prepping this area for the proposed Sawtooth National Recreation Area. My job, as the Forest Service explained it to me, was, you go to Stanley, and you make sure that the National Park Service doesn't get the hearts and minds of the local people and turn this into a national park. That was the Forest Service's big fear.
How did you convince the Stanley locals that the Forest Service was a better deal than the Park Service?
If the Park Service takes over, there will be no more hunting. And that was the tilt. That is the thing that made people say, we want to talk more about this. And, of course, you could play that game in a host of different ways, and you could take it from the hunting angle to the trapping angle to the fishing angle to the grazing angle. Just about any angle you wanted, but the hooker was there would be no more guns, there would be no more hunting, and that seemed to draw a lot of intrigue.
So back then the Forest Service was fighting the Park Service over land to manage?
That's right. They were looking for ownership of the traditional forest lands, and I'm not so sure they were interested in getting into the recreation business, but I think they were more interested in not letting their former multiple use lands go into the hands of an agency that would eliminate what the Forest Service stood for since 1905 — because the two agencies have two different sets of objectives and missions. I'm pretty sure that's why the Forest Service wanted this. And oddly enough, the reason they sent me to Rock Springs, where there had never been a ranger station before, was to make sure that the people there voted or cheered for the Forest Service to be the new proprietor of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which eventually happened. But the Park Service wanted that area. They wanted that real bad. And the Forest Service wanted it, and of course they ended up with it legislatively. And that fell on the heels of me coming here.
So you were a secret weapon of the Forest Service?
Yeah. Go forth. Go do your job. And the Park Service always has their agents at work on issues like this, as well. In fact, the Park Service assigned a person to this area to do nothing but work the crowd, so that the Park Service could eventually become the owners through legislative dictate. And his name was Paul Fritz. And Paul was their legislative contact here on the ground, and he became later the monument superintendant for Craters of the Moon.
A lot of people might be surprised that there were Forest Service agents and Park Service agents.
They may be surprised, but it probably wasn't a sinister type thing. It was more of a, let's use an employee that is willing to go out and meet and greet with people and actually get into the sales position, rather than walk in and say this is what we're going to do, but rather say, are you interested in this product, and if you are, do you want to help model it? Where would you like to see it end up?
This notion of a national recreation area, how unique was it?
This wasn't the first NRA by any means, but you have to remember that the objectives for creating an NRA — National Recreation Area — revolved around having one place left in Idaho that wasn't going to be subdivided, and that was starting to happen in this valley — starting in the late 60s or the mid-60s, moving forward until the time this Act passed. This valley was getting more and more notoriety for a place to put up a trophy home, or to start a trailer court subdivision, or to have a cheap lot that looked at these beautiful mountains and had a river that had salmon in it that came 900 miles. That was a real estate bonanza; and that was starting to happen when Idahoans, primarily Idaho people — it wasn't the Forest Service — said, we have an idea. In my time we had several villages out here at Obsidian that were tacky-looking summer homes with overhead lines and airstrips. And with that came the public saying, well, here are the values we want to protect, and those are really spelled out in the legislation.
Do you personally have any regrets about this becoming a national recreation area versus a national park?
No. No. The minute I turned the corner in lower Stanley looking at these mountains I realized how crucial this would be for the reputation of not only the politicians involved, but the agency being given a new charge, where they could show their expertise in something other than chopping trees down and grazing cattle and sheep. I saw that potential here, so no, I never had any regrets.
I underwent a lot of criticism; it might be a surprise, but there was a lot of internal resistance inside the agency to get away from the pure multiple-use angle of managing property or the landscapes. The Forest Service never envisioned itself ever wanting to be a leader in recreation management. They never pounded the drum to be leaders in the wilderness management arena or the wild and scenic river arena or anything that had to do with wild lands. That wasn't their cup of tea — and it still may not be their cup of tea when you look at what is going on in America today. They just haven't matured as an agency towards a full blown landscape mentality.
So how do they get there?
They're going to get there through public pressure. They're going to get there by being threatened politically, or by outside groups that say, fine, let's have corporate America run these properties, and then the public will become even more alarmed, and the Forest Service will have to step into a new role or disappear. It's that simple.
One of the criticisms one hears about the Forest Service is that it doesn't seem to give the Sawtooth NRA its due; hence, there's never enough resources.
I don't think the Forest Service has shown in the last 25 years a willingness to profile their expertise with national recreation areas. Instead, the managers that have been assigned here look at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area as another ranger district. Everything here on this Area is handled as a single issue, rather than a collaborative analysis relating to the standard of the requirements of the Act — where everything is supposed to be looked at in a total framework. In other words, when you come out here and take a look at the grazing issues or the wildlife issues, they should be handled in harmony with all the other reasons that we have a national recreation area. And that might be scenic beauty, it might be water quality, it might be anadromous fish habitat, which is one of the primary reasons the SNRA exists.
The cry is, we're not getting the funds to run a recreation area, and that probably has some merit. There's probably some truth in that, but what the Forest Service is reluctant to do is to remodel their own organizational approach to a Sawtooth National Recreation Area — and that is by taking a look at their organizational effectiveness at the regional level and the national level where they are totally out of sync with today's political and resource expectations from the public.
What I'm saying is, why don't the Washington office people and the regional office people write new management models for their behavior which would, in turn, send more money to the ground. The Forest Service was created on the basis of keeping our folks around the campfires with the public. Gifford Pinchot said, please make decisions locally sitting around the campfire with the people who live on the land. The Forest Service has abandoned that mission. Now it is all being handled rather routinely by cut and dried dictums or expressions that are more political than they are resource- oriented.
So was the Forest Service ready for a concept like a national recreation area?
No, I don't think they were. I think that they knew that they had to get into the fight, they had to have a dog in the fight, because those proposed national recreational areas were going to occupy the lands that they wanted to hang onto the most.
Again, the Forest Service has got to say, this is not a routine ranger district. We're going to give it some priority. We want the expertise, we want the notoriety. We're going to pick people who are trained in the recreation arena to be the new managers, the new caretakers. When we started the SNRA, I happened to be one of the very first managers, and I had to move to Ketchum to put out a whole new organization; and the one thing we did was we built a model for on-the-ground behavior, based on the best parts of the Forest Service and the best parts of the Park Service. We borrowed a lot of organizational structure, including titles. We no longer called ourselves forest rangers. We called ourselves superintendent, assistant superintendent with responsibility for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. They've abandoned that. They've chosen to abandon that because I think it made a lot of people in the Forest Service nervous to not have the expectations of the routine behavioral patterns from the past in terms of running this SNRA.
What would it take for this national recreation area to perform the way you think it should?
The people who put together the language for this act, the SNRA Act, and the politicians who had to fight other attractive reasons for this land, they all sat down and they worked, they hammered out something that is truly remarkable. If you look at the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Act you're going to see a wonderfully written, composed piece of legislation. The trick is to get people to go back and read it and implement it. They're not running this as an SNRA. They are running it as a ranger district, and I find that objectionable considering that you have legislation that permits you to be different.
What do you see down the road for the Sawtooth NRA?
Down the road, I think you are going to see people coming here who want to develop it for destination reasons, mostly recreation, because there is no resource-base here of any magnitude, but there are recreation corporations that I think will find this area, and they'll start to look at the opportunities here, which are many. I think you'll see the pricing of land and houses go up in value. It could become so valuable that maybe it will create a new problem of accessibility. Can you afford to come here, live here, play here? That could happen.
But as long as you have a Forest Service agency in charge of these lands, they can exert a tremendous influence on keeping that level — and so could the county. To me, the county is one of the important players in this whole scenario, and we need to bring them in; if they don't feel like they're in the fold, we need to bring them into the fold. And the cities, of course, are a little bit different story because they've been guaranteed a certain amount of immunity in terms of development, but we could invite them and work with them.
As I look back, I can easily see the successes we had, and I'll say the first ten years of this SNRA the accomplishments and the organizational product fall-out was amazing, absolutely amazing. And then I've seen that slowly slip into the back stream, where it's not even a priority anymore — to worry about being a leader, getting out in front, working with the public and making this a showcase. Everything is here. The stage is set. It's just a matter of moving the props.
Jan Boles went into the White Clouds in 1969 with a friend, Jim Marshall, and a camera, to document the mining activity near Castle Peak. His photos gave Idahoans their first look at what ASARCO was doing on their patented mining claims at the base of Castle Peak. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What was your motivation for hiking into the White Clouds in 1969?
The general atmosphere in Idaho and the nation was this growing awareness of wilderness issues; and once the word got out that there would be a potential open pit mine at the base of Castle Peak, it really sort of galvanized a lot of people. We had been in touch with Sam Day at the Intermountain Observer, and when I volunteered to submit pictures and a piece from the location, he was all for it. That's what got us going on that particular trip.
There had been one story in the Idaho Statesman in the spring of '69 and a reporter had been in there who wasn't familiar with mining. He said in his story that there's no problem up there, but I knew from my experience in Colorado and the Climax molybdenum mine that the big problem was yet to come.
We went in and found that the core sample drills were dumping their effluent into the Boulder Chain lakes. That had already become an issue, because the Boulder Chains are a tributary of the East Fork of the Salmon River, and the Salmon was regarded as a pristine river system. So what we reported was the first evidence from on-the-ground that there was a lot of displacement back in there.
The pictures we brought out showed the bulldozer had been in there at work; the clear lake water was turned a milky grey-green; the red spray paint blazes on trees showing where roads were intended. And it was all right at the base of this incredible mountain that was out of sight. You don't get a view of Castle Peak from any major highway, and so it takes a photograph to show what is going on.
We were not at all certain of what we would find. You come up the trail and the first thing we encountered was the ASARCO camp at Baker Lake, which was set in deep woods. You couldn't see much. But then we worked on out toward their claim, and all of a sudden here was a big clearing for the helicopters; a lot of timber had been cut down. Just beyond that was the drill rig at Little Boulder Chain Lake #1, which showed the effluent being dumped right in the water. In order to do a drill core, you pump in a substance called bentonite; that helps lubricate the bit, and that's pumped out with water. It has to go somewhere, and it's this talcum powder-like heavy mineral they were putting right into the lake. It wasn't clear anymore. It was that milky, clouded look that was just undeniable evidence of serious change.
Was it difficult to get the photos?
I had experience with mining claims. You could walk across a claim, but you couldn't pick anything up. A claim didn't entitle them to exclude you. We did stay away from one encampment — in fact, where the bulldozer was — because there was a big Doberman guard dog, and discretion was the better part of valor there! We did have telephoto lenses, so we could still get pictures. The miners were essentially technicians, and they weren't talkative. They gave us the cold shoulder.
So you brought the photos back to Sam Day of the Intermountain Observer?
The Intermountain Observer was a weekly, and it didn't have a wide circulation; but it was influential in that other journalists read it. And Bill Hall at the Lewiston Tribune got in touch with me and asked if he could use one of the photos. Within a short time of the publication in the Observer, a picture and an account appeared on the editorial page of the Lewiston Tribune. So that started to get the message out.
Then a few months later, some of my enlargements from that Little Boulder Chain locale appeared on the Today Show on national television in conjunction with Earth Day. There were a lot of other wonderful photographers at work by that time. In fact, Ernie Day had done aerial photos of Castle Peak early on — actually before we made our trip — and that was very influential. His pictures were widely distributed because they were wonderful pictures; and he had been the Idaho Parks chairman and famously resigned his position when Governor Samuelson refused to regard the White Clouds mining claims as any kind of an issue.
In the article that you wrote, you paraphrased J.R.R. Tolkien and his Ring Trilogy.
I had just read it, and I couldn't get away from the idea that here were two backpackers heading into what was supposed to be pristine wilderness with these enormous dynamite blasts echoing down the canyon. I wrote that we felt more like two hobbits approaching the dark citadel of Mordor than walking into a high alpine lake.
We had hiked in on a trail; that trail would be replaced by a road. It would just take an entire drainage and wreck it as far as hunting, fishing, recreation, and backpacking was concerned. It would be the difference between the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and what happened to the Coeur d'Alene River in the Silver Valley.
When we reached the area where the helicopter landing pad was, it didn't take any exercise in visualization to realize that a pristine alpine environment would be altered into an industrial site; and that noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution — all those things would replace what had been a John Muir-type environment.
It was potentially heart breaking. I did a lot of head shaking.
You must feel good about playing a role in this important battle.
There was a feeling of solidarity about it. There wasn't a lot of ego involved with authorship. When one of my pictures appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, it was attributed to Ernie Day, and that didn't bother me at all.
Here was the Christian Science Monitor and a full page above the fold devoted to the White Clouds. That showed that the story extended well beyond Custer County, well beyond Idaho, to the nation at large. And that was a gratifying feeling.
John Freemuth is a political scientist at Boise State University. He has written several books on public lands issues. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
Didn't the National Park Service come up with a plan for managing the Sawtooth area?
It was requested by a member of Congress, if I have my history right. And what they proposed looks sort of like maybe two fried eggs, in a way. You had two core wilderness areas — the Sawtooths and the White Clouds — surrounding the valley floor and elsewhere by a national recreation area. And that proposal obviously created some debate and concern. It was sort of reflective of where the Park Service was beginning to go in that era.
So both the Park Service and the Forest Service were vying for this land?
The Forest Service and the Park Service have a great historical competitive relationship. The Sawtooths, to the Forest Service, is a crown jewel, much like we talk about national park crown jewels. Remember, the first proposal for a national park in the Sawtooths was around 1911. One of the reasons the Forest Service developed primitive areas is to fend off park proposals.
Now that doesn't diminish Bob Marshal and all the philosophers of wilderness, right? But they picked areas because they were losing land to the Park Service. What do you think the national parks would come from after the creation of the Forest Service? Before then, there were parks and no Forest Service. They were the first agency, but there were parks before there were forests. They don't want to lose the Sawtooths to the Park Service. That's why you get the recreation area concept that comes later, but back then it was primitive areas.
Hunting seemed to swing the debate to the Forest Service side.
Oh, no question. Jim McClure told me this; Cecil Andrus has told me this; and Idaho is a hunting state. The Park Service Organic Act will say there is no hunting in units of the park system, unless Congress decides to authorize it. So a national park here in Idaho, to overcome that, would have had to have congressional authorization for hunting, because otherwise the Park Service would not allow it.
Forty years ago, how unusual was this concept of a national recreation area, managed by the Forest Service?
The national recreation concept sort of originates ironically with Harold Ickes as a way to come up with a less national park level quality area that the Park Service could still manage to - in his words - outflank the Forest Service. But they are sort of the garbage can of public land policy. You have the Sawtooths and Hells Canyon, indistinguishable from the quality resources of national parks. Then you have the place I was a ranger - Glenn Canyon national recreation area. It's essentially wilderness - I mean, it is stunning red rock country, but in the middle of it is a lake. Then you have Golden Gate and Gateway national recreation areas in San Francisco and New York City. So, what is a national recreation area? There is no template. There is sort of, I think, political solutions to difficult issues. You clearly don't want to make them national parks for certain reasons but you want to distinguish them in some way.
Can you make the case that the Sawtooths could be better handled by the Park Service?
You can make a case, just like you can make the opposite case. What you would probably get with a national park is more resource protection. You would certainly get much more interpretation. And I know a lot of people lament that the Forest Service has not done with interpretation what the Park Service could do, because it is one of the things the Park Service emphasizes, besides resource protection.
Would you get more development? I'm not so sure anymore that you would look at something like Grand Teton as the reference point. You might want to look at Great Basin. If you look at Great Basin, there is no development at Great Basin. That's probably where the Park Service has gone now. But would it bring in more people? Unquestionably, because you put the label national park, and people would come. And some people would think that's too many people.
One of the arguments is the money issue. Might there be more money for things if it were a national park?
The Forest Service is a diverse agency, and it probably has people who are, I would say, closer to a Park Service philosophy in terms of resource protection, and less interested in multiple use, but that's probably still a big minority of that agency.
This is a national recreation area. Now, it's subsumed in the Sawtooth National Forest. The National Park Service does nothing like that, alright? And these two in Idaho are pretty unique — the Hells Canyon and the Sawtooth — in terms of clearly being world class areas. So you'll get the criticism, it's a crown jewel. Distinguish it. Have the Sawtooth Recreation Area supervisor, equivalent to a forest supervisor. Why can't you do that? Maybe internally they feel, well, it will get special attention. Well, okay, the agency already rhetorically gives it special attention, right? And it is odd, when you think about it, you've got these areas that Congress has already said are different from the national forest. They have their own enabling legislation, and they've got different sets of purposes. It is kind of confusing to people, and I think it is a cultural issue within the Forest Service.
Retired ranger Tom Kovalicky argues that they need to treat the Sawtooth NRA differently from other forest districts.
I think Tom Kovalicky is correct, and Tom was here at the beginning, and Tom, like all of us, has his own perspectives and biases. The manager of the Sawtooth NRA still has to report to a supervisor. I think they just have trouble in their own culture figuring out how to do that. And Tom was sort of out there as a Forest Service person. I think Tom was a little greener than some of them and stood for a different vision of how to treat certain areas.
Interestingly, there is a growing 'turn Hells Canyon into a park' movement again. In Oregon there is some frustration again with whatever the Forest Service is doing in Hells Canyon. Well, guys, that one has come back more than once, just like this has. I'm not saying it is justified, but there is something going on; and I'll tell ya, Rule Number One still is: if you want to get more attention from the Forest Service for this area, threaten them with a national park, and they will do something about it!
I'd submit to you that the competition between the Park Service and the Forest Service gave us this NRA, alright? And I think the people who sponsored that ought to be proud of at least what their vision was - Cecil Andrus, Frank Church, Jim McClure.
And while we're talking about McClure, there are a number of people who think there's a mountain here named Mount Heyburn that really ought to be named Mount McClure. After all, Senator Heyburn was not a fan of the public lands. He hated the Forest Service. Jim McClure — some environmentalists may not like me to say this — Jim McClure had a lot to do with this Sawtooth NRA; and Jim has passed away now. What a nice honor to have a mountain named after a guy who helped create the place and fought for it. Mount McClure. Wonder if it will happen someday?
Becky Nourse is Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
It seems like the job of a forest supervisor has changed over the years.
I've only been a forest supervisor for about a year and a half, so I don't have a long history to compare it with; but I think what I see changing in the last decade or so is this idea of collaboration and of really trying to engage the people who use the national forests.
There are great ideas out there and a lot of opportunity. We're the ones who are charged with managing public lands, but we sure don't have all the ideas in the world. This idea of collaboration, I think, can bring a whole different element into the discussion. It often helps us to think about things in a different way and consider other things. To me, that is what has really changed in the agency in the last decade or so. People are very much more open and trying to reach out to the public to engage them, much more so than we used to do in the past.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a special child. It has special needs and privileges built into the law. How do you make sure it gets the funding it needs?
That's part of our challenge these days, and I'm not sure that any time in the history of the agency there has been enough money to do everything that there is to do out there. Partnerships are really a key piece for us these days, because when you have partners, they bring you ideas. They can really expand our capacity, whether it's through dollars or whether it's through people to help with projects, and I just think that's really the way this agency is going to survive in the future.
The Intermountain region has three national recreation areas on it. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is one, but Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Utah and then the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in the Las Vegas area are two other places. The legislation is slightly different, but they have that National Recreation Area status. So I think it's always that balancing act between trying to manage things on these NRAs at a higher level but still having responsibility to balance the needs of the rest of the forest with that. I think we talk about that daily. We spend a lot of time talking about opportunities and ways that we can just always do more and do the right thing out on the land.
It's a juggling act. It's not just me making that decision. We have our leadership team looking at project opportunities and needs across the forest, and we really work together as a team to try to balance that. I think everyone knows we have the NRA and it's a different kind of place, but that doesn't mean that there aren't really important needs on the other districts. We've got great recreation programs on all three of them — winter and summer — and they provide a different kind of recreation in a different place. And that is important, too.
So that's the thing I try to keep in mind; it's not all about just the NRA; it's not all about one of the other districts. It's really a role for our leadership team to work together to try to balance those needs and provide for the entire forest.
The dead trees in this forest are something you can't miss. Can't you do a better job of dealing with this problem?
Lodgepole is a relatively short-lived species, 80 to 120 years, and then stand replacement occurs, and that has sort of historically taken place by fire. This country has been really good at putting out fires for the last 80 to 100 years, and so the stands are old and they're starting to get decadent. And when that happens, when you don't have that disturbance by fire, mountain pine beetles are an endemic species. When a stand gets old and decadent it gives those beetles an opportunity to attack the trees and build their population up to basically what is an epidemic size. And so these beetles ten years ago played the same role that fire would have. So it's all part of the natural eco-system. Of course, what you are left with are dead trees, and that causes a lot of challenges with public safety and fuels for fires.
I think that the Forest Service and this district have been working really hard for well over a decade in trying to deal with it. We have tens of thousands of acres of lodgepole and so the idea that you can do something about all the trees is maybe a little bit of a reach. What we've been doing for the last 10 years is really focusing on the places where people are going. We did a lot of spraying of individual trees within our campgrounds. I think about 20,000 trees have been sprayed individually to protect them, to try to keep trees in the campgrounds.
We've removed lots of infested trees or dead trees out of the places where our public is recreating. When you have something of that magnitude, you have to kind of almost do a triage and figure out where is the place that has the most opportunity to cause problems with our recreating public or the people who live there and try to take care of that.
So that's what we've really been focusing on for about the last decade, and I think have been pretty successful. It looks different for people when they come to a campground and that big tree that used to be right by campsite three isn't there anymore, but if they look around, they'll see young ones coming up, and it's just part of that cycle of the forest regenerating itself.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Thoughts?
It's a wonderful place. It's a special place to a lot of people. We got to talk to Bethine Church today and show her the overlook on Galena Summit that has been rebuilt and renamed in her and her husband Frank's honor. For me it was just really a neat moment to get to talk with Bethine and thank her for that vision that this group of people had 40 years ago; and 40 years later to see a lot of that vision coming true. And all the work that has been done in that timeframe is pretty amazing.
What are the challenges you see in the next 40 years?
Trying to develop partnerships with people who will help us meet our mission is really key. Things change all the time. Forty years ago the issue was small subdivisions, small houses. People are building different kinds of houses these days. You look at some of the motorized equipment like snowmobiles, they've changed a lot in the last 20 years and have different capabilities. The way people use our public lands is constantly changing, and so one of those challenges is trying to stay in tune with the public and try to stay relevant with them, helping them do what we can in the way of education about natural resources in public lands and what they can get from that. And that's going to be just a constant thing, I think.
People for 40 years have been doing that, and I hope we can do our part to continue that. And I see nothing but optimism and a lot of hope for places like this.
Joby Timm is the new Area Ranger of the Sawtooth NRA, with a degree as a landscape architect from North Dakota. At the time we conducted this interview, in the summer of 2012, Timm had only been on the job for about six months. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What's your take on this part of the country?
It's really what you don't see that makes this place so special and unique. Right now I've been working on developing partnerships, connections, working with local community groups and different agencies and just kind of learning who the players are in the area. I think the Sawtooth National Recreation Area probably has one of the finest staff that I've ever worked with in the Forest Service so it's been a real pleasure just getting here. I moved here, I got married, moved my new bride over, and things have been pretty good ever since.
Do you have a plan to improve the Sawtooth NRA?
That's going to be tough improving on what folks have been working on for the last 40 years. Since I've been here, I've identified three areas that I could foresee us trying to improve on.
Number one is our partnerships. We have such passionate partners right now. We have great working relationships with a variety of groups — the Sawtooth Society, the Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association, Blaine County Recreation Districts — all spectacular and tremendous partners. So I can see us with our reduced budgets and reduced personnel, developing those partnerships to be more efficient and to help us accomplish our mission.
Number two is our developed and dispersed recreation. As a national recreation area, we want to provide world class recreation to our visitors. And I think we have a lot of visitor opportunities, from solitude in the wilderness to boating at Red Fish Lake. So I could see us working to just maintain and improve those facilities that we have.
If you drive up and down the roads, there's an opportunity there for us to improve and replace a lot of our signs. We have approximately 750 miles of existing trails right now that always need maintenance. Of those trails, most of them are at a more advanced level, so one of the things that I think you will see on the NRA in the next 5 years or so is working with our partners to develop some more beginner and intermediate type of trail use for folks.
The third area that I foresee us continuing to work on is watershed restoration. Right now we're doing a lot of work in the Pole Creek area, stream bank restoration, timber management, grazing management.
In the Pole Creek area there are a lot of old timber roads, user created paths and roads and trails. One of the opportunities is to restore some of those trails and provide more of a sustainable trail system in that area. There are some trail bridges planned for the Pole Creek project. And that's another opportunity for our partners to work with us on some of that road restoration work. We'll put the bridge abutments in and the stringers; and then we have partnership groups that will come in and lay the decking and help us with a lot of that work. That's one of our areas that we really need to capitalize on. The people in the Sawtooth valley and the Wood River valley have such a passion for their outdoor recreational experience that it's a great opportunity for us to work with them to accomplish mutual goals.
Partnerships are going to be our way to sustain what we want to do and to achieve our mission that we have as an agency. And we're fortunate to have so many passionate people who share our mission and our goals, and they want to see the Forest Service succeed in doing things.
For a ranger, how does the Sawtooth NRA stack up?
It really is the jewel of the Forest Service. This is probably the premier location to be as a Forest Service employee in our national forest system, so I'm very honored to be here.
But you're situated between two very different counties, Blaine and Custer. That can't be easy.
Each county has its unique challenges and opportunities and different perspectives and attitudes and different issues in each county. That's part of why I'm here and why Becky Nourse has given the support to just sit and listen and talk and work through anything that we need to work through. It's been good so far.
Barb Garcia is the Deputy Area Ranger on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012 during a particularly active fire season.
What's your take on the fires of 2012?
Most people are really frightened by it, especially in light of what happened in Colorado this year. But for me, fire is a natural part of the ecosystem, and we haven't seen that throughout the NRA in a long time. It is something that happens, it's natural. But when you live in these environments and you recreate in these environments, it's a lot more difficult.
Living here year-round in Stanley, I can totally relate to the fear of that and trying to balance out the suppression tactics and the after math of this natural event with your livelihood and how it affects you from a day-to-day perspective, and that's a difficult thing to balance out. Just because I wear a green uniform doesn't mean that I'm not feeling the same anxieties that everyone in Stanley is feeling. At this point in time, fire is all around Stanley, with the Trinity Ridge and Halsted, and then the Bench fire.
When you have this enormous push of fire and the fire behavior that we're seeing and the drought conditions that we're seeing and the enormous manpower that it is taking just to monitor this thing, it's very concerning to me. We have fire restrictions in place on the Sawtooth National Forest. We try to educate recreationists about man-caused fire and really try to at least handle that side of fire in the eco-system, but we had another thunder storm come through just last night with a lot of lightning. Human life is the first priority, so the strategies and tactics we're taking are centered around that.
We're looking at where we can be successful in actually fighting the fire, for lack of a better word. When you have 300 foot high flame lengths, and it's spotting ahead of itself a mile, you're not going to put firefighters there and go direct. You're going to utilize other tactics. We're hoping that the weather will someday soon cooperate with us, but the prognosis isn't looking very good in the near term future for that.
So the reality is, it has greatly impacted the community here, and it will continue to do that probably through at least the end of September; and even then it will be a season-ending event, a good snowfall, to really say that these areas are even safe to go in. I think it has been a little bit of an eye opening event, having like a mini-subdivision off Highway 21, but they are providing a critical, critical need for us and we couldn't do it without them.
What does the 40th anniversary of the Sawtooth NRA mean to you personally?
I wanted to be part of something bigger, where preserving and protecting was really the emphasis of the management. So I think about 40 years and the enormous amount of forethought that went into the designation and went into making this place what it is. I think about what visionaries they were during that period of time, and how grateful I am.
But then I get brought back to my job and the difficulties of the current economic climate we're in and how the Forest Service itself has evolved over time. And do we appropriately manage the Sawtooth NRA? Are we given the right tools to adequately do that? Are we serving the American public the way we need to be? And so I've been thinking about that in terms of the 40 years. And where will we be 40 years from now? Will the Sawtooth look the same? Will we swing another direction? Will the Boulder- White Clouds be wilderness? I think about the decisions that I make every day, and hopefully in 40 years the deputy area ranger standing here will be proud and view us as visionaries as well. That's my hope, anyway.
The only way I see is having really, really candid conversations about where we are, and where we need to be, and a lot of cooperating efforts there. We've been doing some of that, but I think more of that needs to occur. I just don't see the Forest Service right now being able to do all of that, the way they used to. Personally, I liked that on-the-ground presence that the Forest Service had, and I would like to see us have more involvement there.
It's that spirituality, I guess, for lack of a better word that people feel when they come here, and the ability to come and just be at peace with yourself. That's definitely what drew me in. I took the bait, and now I'm here and brought the family with me. And it definitely resonates. This place stays with you once you're here; and that's the draw of the Sawtooth NRA and why it is called the Gem of Idaho; it's that spirituality that you feel here.
So I keep that in mind with every decision that I make, and we try to make sure that that spirituality is inter-mixed with the community because it's the only way it is going to survive, and that's a really, really important marriage and a really, really important thing as we do move forward to the next 40th. How do we appropriately manage the Sawtooth NRA and that spirituality with the city of Stanley and all the residents within the Sawtooth valley and make sure that we are really thinking about all of those values and how they impact everyone, year round, not just during the busy season.
Ed Cannady has been with the Sawtooth NRA for more than twenty years. He was a wilderness ranger for nine years and is now the backcountry manager for the Sawtooth NRA. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
Have you seen a lot of changes on the Sawtooth NRA?
I've seen changes, but I've seen a lot of constants, too. The changes come in the form of budgets — sometimes we're flush, sometimes we're not. Right now we're not. And we understand that when we have a trillion dollar budget deficit every year, we're just not going to be flush. So we have to work a lot harder now, writing grant proposals, to get money to maintain the trails and build new trails and to continue to try to provide that world-class recreational opportunity that the Sawtooth National Recreation Area should provide.
The constants have been the landscape, of course. These mountains stand outside of time as we know it, because they don't change. The trees change; a lot of them have died in the past 15 years; but they come back. And it's amazing, too, how constant my affection for the mountains is. It has never varied from that first moment I saw them in June of 1971 to today. I still get just giddy every time I drive into the Sawtooth Valley; and I know so many people who have the same experience.
Some folks have called this area the heart of Idaho.
I would agree with that. Heart is a good analogy. I think the stomach is a good analogy, if you'll allow me that, because it's where the people of Idaho and across the nation come to feed their hungry souls. People who want more than what they experience in the cities or towns. And they come here to re-realize things that maybe they lost; and this place has certainly played that role for me.
So I like the heart because of the headwaters of five major rivers; we provide the lifeblood for the rest of the state. But it's really where people can come to feed their souls and meet those needs that maybe they didn't even realize they had, and to reconnect to the natural world. It's a lot easier, I think, in a place like this, where the drama is in your face, and the beauty and peace and serenity are in your face; and you can realize it a lot more easily; and hopefully people come here and have that experience and take that home with them, and realize that where they live may not be as dramatically beautiful as the Sawtooths or the White Clouds, but they can have the same kind of experience there if they just slow their pace and think about it in a different way. So I'm hoping we provide that opportunity for people.
Compare this national recreation area to the national parks that you visit.
I liken the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to a national park; only, people get to be part of the ecosystem. You can cut firewood, you can graze cows, you can do things you couldn't do in a national park. You can hunt elk and deer, and you can fish. So we have that challenge of balancing that type of extractive use with preserving the scenic, natural, historic, pastoral, and fish and wildlife values that the Act requires of us. I think it is really important to allow people that connection with the land, that shooting an elk and taking it home and eating on it all winter allows you to do. It's a connection that is lost a lot in modern society. So I think it is important to be able to maintain that.
Over the 40 years, how closely has the Sawtooth NRA hewed to the original concept written into the law?
I really think we've managed to make at least a valiant effort at meeting the intent of the law. It's plain that when you drive through the Sawtooth valley and the Stanley Basin you don't see all the trophy homes that you do in the Wood River valley. Not that there is anything wrong with the development that has happened there; It's just very different, and it's a very different environment. In the Sawtooth valley you drive through and, aside from the paved road, it could still be 1910. So I think we've done a pretty good job of maintaining that. We take the scenic quality area very seriously.
We try really hard to preserve the fish and wildlife values because we do have the chinook and sockeye salmon that still come here; and their numbers are up and down depending on a lot of other factors; but we work really hard to provide them with optimal spawning conditions. It's the longest salmon run in the world —over 900 miles — and we take that very seriously. And I think we do a pretty good job of balancing use of the river with the fish being able to spawn, unmolested. So I think we've adhered pretty closely.
Where I think the greatest challenge lies is in the future. When Public Law 92-400, which designated the National Recreation Area, passed, it had a minimum square footage for houses. The worry then was shanty towns and shacks. That was what was happening at Obsidian. But now, of course, it's just the opposite problem — the monster homes that people want to build. So we've made that huge dramatic swing from people having small quarter lots and building 500 to 600 square foot structures on it, to building 10,000 square foot monstrosities. That's a little harder, because we buy the conservation easements; we have fairly limited enforcement authority, so we do the best we can to control that. And most people who move to this area get that, and they don't want to destroy the character of the area. But occasionally you have people who just want to build that monument to themselves, and it's really hard to stop, but we fight really hard to do that, and I think we've done a pretty good job of maintaining the character, the western ranching atmosphere that we shoot for.
What efforts do you make for the salmon?
I still really believe — and I think a lot of other people a lot smarter than me believe — that the biggest problem with salmon coming home to the Sawtooths doesn't lie in the Sawtooths. It lies downstream, and we have no control over that. So I don't know that a national park would have given us any more footing to gain any kind of change in those downriver conditions. We work really hard, and my river outfitters are gallant, hard working people, and I don't say that lightly. I really believe it, and they embrace the salmon. I mean, they float on the Salmon River, for goodness sake, and they want their clients to understand and appreciate those fish as much as they do. But we impose a lot of conditions on them, to allow them to float while the salmon are spawning, and they are very cooperative. They do a great job. But they bear a huge share of the burden that we impose, trying to give salmon that optimal spawning opportunity; and they do it well, and people are interested in the salmon.
It is so easy to forget how magnificent those fish are. When you watch a female dig a nest in the gravel of the Salmon River, she's going to lay her eggs there, and the male is going to fertilize them, and the next spring those fry are going to emerge from the gravel and spend a year maturing to the point that they can get carried to the Pacific ocean, tail first by the spring run-off, and spend three years in the ocean, maybe swim as far as Japan and come back and swim upstream 900 miles. A Herculean effort that no human could do, to return to the same spot, to repeat the cycle. It's just one of the most amazing stories in nature, as far as I'm concerned.
So for us and for me, specifically, the privilege of doing what we can to give those fish the opportunity to spawn successfully is amazing. Just knowing that we are doing that for those fish is one of the most gratifying parts of my job.
What's your take on whether this area would get more funding if it were managed by the National Park Service?
We would always like to have a bigger budget. We would always like to have more money. I'm not convinced that national parks get the kind of funding that they need all the time, because I go to Yellowstone and the roads are horrible, and the facilities are older and worse shape than ours often — and I love Yellowstone. They have their problems with maintenance, as well. What you would lose making that trade-off is the opportunities I spoke of earlier — hunting, fishing, firewood gathering, being a part of the landscape here. In national parks you just don't get to do it. I feel really connected to Yellowstone and Grand Teton because I like those places a lot; but not like I do here. I am part of this place. I go there to be amazed at things I don't get to see every day because their animal populations aren't hunted. I go here, and I'm amazed by those opportunities, like the time I had a mountain goat walk within 5 yards of me. And it's a wild animal. It's not a park animal, and that's a very different experience. I've had the same experience with black bears — not five yards, but really close. They are hunted populations, they are truly wild animals, so it's an even bigger thrill for me when it happens here.
I think you lose a lot of the opportunity to have that really basic, almost primordial, connection with a place that you can here. I think you lose that in a lot of national parks. You go there to look. You come here to really truly experience.
What does the Sawtooth Wilderness provide the Sawtooth NRA?
The Sawtooth wilderness was designated as wilderness in 1972 with the passage of Public Law 92-400. It was the Sawtooth Primitive Area prior to that. Of course, what the Forest Service can do regulatorily, it can un-do regulatorily, so the need for permanent protection was acute. It provides the assurance that you can go to a place and not experience the mechanized world. The essence of wilderness is the opportunity to have a primitive and unconfined recreation opportunity. No motorized or mechanized transport. So you are basically going back to a much simpler time.
How does it compare with other Idaho wilderness areas?
That's a tough question for me, because I will never claim to be unbiased. But I think the Sawtooth wilderness stacks up with any wilderness in the entire U.S., because we have all the classic mountain qualities: vertiginous peaks, great vertical relief, and 500 alpine lakes, and mountain goats. And I think mountain goats are our signature terrestrial species — salmon being our signature aquatic species — but mountain goats are such amazing animals, and they occur in significant numbers in the Sawtooths and in the White Clouds and Boulders.
I think we have all the classic qualities that people think of when they think of wilderness: great opportunities for solitude and deep solitude. You can go to the front country or the front range lakes — Alice Lake, the Sawtooth lakes — and have a good experience and not see many people. And to some people, that is real solitude. But to others like myself, I like having the opportunity to go into the deep back country where I know I'm not going to see anyone else, and just have that for days if I wanted, for the entire season if I wanted. It's unlikely I would see anyone else for an entire season. And that is really important to a lot of people. I think that the White Clouds and the Boulders provide that same opportunity. It means it costs you more in terms of calories because they are harder to get to, and that's why there aren't a lot of people there, but the opportunity there is that deep solitude that we so rarely find.
Why has it been so difficult to secure wilderness in the White Clouds?
It started off with the minerals that occurred there; and the idea was to study it for its potential as wilderness and that was in the bill in Public Law 92-400; but then hikers love the place, but so do other users. Motorized users love the place, and that use has grown up over the years, and they value the experience they have there — the motorized users and the mountain bikers. They are very jealous of it, and they don't want to give it up easily. So the people who really want to see wilderness for the White Clouds have very specific reasons for wanting that, and the people who don't want to see wilderness have very specific reasons for not wanting it, and I think they are both valid. I'm partial to wilderness myself, but the way we manage it currently is so that, hopefully, all users can have really great world-class opportunities in those mountains.
What is your personal connection with the White Clouds?
They are maybe my favorite part of the landscape here. I've probably over the years spent more time in the Sawtooths, but I've spent a lot of time in the White Clouds, and they're kind of the forgotten mountains. The Boulder Mountains rise abruptly from the Wood River valley and they're in your face as you're driving north of Ketchum. The Sawtooths are very much in your face as you drive in the Sawtooth valley and the town of Stanley. But the White Clouds are kind of hidden behind those glorious foothills, and you can see them from the highway in just a couple of places, and then if you know where to look.
It's a different geology, different substrate, a lot more limestone, richer in nutrients, and so the fish are bigger, the meadows are more verdant and great aspens stands and not quite as austere as the Sawtooth wilderness. So it's a different experience there, but it provides the same experience as the wilderness with that richness that you don't have in the wilderness. And Castle Peak. What more can you say that wasn't said in Life Magazine in 1970 and so many other publications. Castle is maybe the most iconic peak in the state, but it's invisible, unless you spend the effort to go into the heart of the White Clouds. It's where my ashes will be spread, hopefully. It's my favorite piece of rock in the whole world. It's just this big, glorious chunk of rock that grabbed my heart and has held it ever since. And a lot of other people feel the same way, I know. And it looks different from every angle. It will persist in Idaho's imagination for as long as it stands.
So what does the future hold for the Sawtooth NRA?
I see a really bright future. I think the people of Idaho are connected enough to this place they're going to make sure it is protected. They are not going to let us let down our guard and all the work that those people did 40 years ago — the men and women who fought so hard to protect this place — they're not going to let that go away. I really truly believe we are the crown jewel of the state. And I think people look at us that way. I experience it every year when I talk to campers and backpackers who have been coming here every year. They came here with their fathers, their grandfathers and grandmothers, and that connection runs really deep, and I don't think the people of Idaho are going to let it be wasted.
I think that it is important enough to this state that we remain what we've always been, that they will make sure that we meet the intent of the Act. That doesn't mean there won't be challenges; there will be, but I think the people of the State of Idaho have our backs.
Jim Rineholt is a forester with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. For the past decade he and the Forest Service have been dealing with the pine beetle infestation that has devastated the lodgepole pine forests of the West. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What exactly have you been doing in response to the pine beetle infestation?
As trees die, we have to eventually remove them or else they'll become hazardous trees. So that has entailed quite a bit of my work here recently. And we've also had to replant trees in some of the camp grounds. We've actually restored some of the areas by adding new paths and trails to keep people on trail, so they don't trample everywhere. And because of that, trees have been able to really take root and are growing quite successfully.
And so in some camp grounds we're actually going back in and thinning, because they are becoming so thick and dense, which is typical of lodgepole pine. So we're trying to think ahead and keep those trees healthy so they are less susceptible to mountain pine beetle attacks as they get older.
The Sawtooth NRA is essentially lodgpole pine, right?
Yeah, lodgepole pine likes to grow in the higher elevations. It is tolerant to cold; it can withstand frost pockets, whereas other tree species can't; and it can grow in gravelly soils. In fact, if you even close off an old road, they'll come right back in; so they're a pretty hearty tree species. And they also do not last very long, because either mountain pine beetles or fire usually will take them out. But they do need those disturbances so they can regenerate, which is part of the ecology of lodgepole pine. So as long as there have been lodgepole pine, we've had mountain pine beetles.
Lodgepole pine will grow up to 200 years old when it reaches maturity, but in most parts of the forest here, they are either between 80 to 120 years and that seems to be about as long as they'll grow. And it's either fire has gone through or else mountain pine beetles have taken them out.
How does a mountain pine beetle do its dirty work?
Mountain pine beetle is a native insect, and what happens is that usually the female beetles will initiate the attack. They are looking for a suitable host tree to enter, to mate and to lay eggs for the next generation. And bark beetles communicate through pheromones, and so when a suitable host tree is found, hundreds upon hundreds of other bark beetles enter that tree with what we call a mass attack. Normally, if trees are healthy, they have a lot of water resins or sap. As the bark beetles drill into the tree, the sap will start to stream out, and they'll try to push those beetles out; but if the tree is just so overwhelmed by the number of hundreds and hundreds of bark beetles, then the defense mechanism just becomes overwhelmed, and the tree will eventually die.
So the bark beetles will lay their eggs and the larvae will hatch. They feed crossways just underneath the inner bark, in what we call the phloem, which disrupts the food from the needles to the roots. The bark beetles actually spend most of their life cycle in underneath the bark of the tree. And then they'll merge again the following summer — usually about the first of July — and they'll emerge and look for new trees to attack and continue the cycle.
When the mountain pine beetle reaches epidemic levels like we've had, then even healthy trees can be attacked; whereas, normally in low levels where there are not too many bark beetles, the trees will be able to usually survive and pitch them out. And sometimes they will be successful underneath the bark; they will only go maybe 2 or 3 inches before they eventually just run out of steam and die from all the sap and the water.
But once a tree is successfully attacked, there's nothing you can do?
That's correct. Once a tree is successfully attacked, there is really nothing that can be done at that point. They carry a blue stained fungus which actually starts growing into the wood pores and clogs the xylem tissue or the wood pores, the water conducting cells, and so that just kind of seals the fate of the tree. Sometimes a tree will only get attacked on maybe one side, maybe the north or east side where it's cool, and so a lot of times we have what we call strip attacks; and the tree will normally survive; but then usually that bark is stripped off from woodpeckers going in after the bark beetles and the larvae.
Just about every western state has been impacted by the mountain pine beetles, and Canada too. So what we're seeing is pretty unprecedented. I always say, it's a bad time to be a tree right now with climate change. it just enabled them to really explode in population, especially in the higher elevations and our white bark pine eco-systems. It usually takes about 2 years for them to produce the next brood, but because of the longer, hotter summers, they've been able to do that in one year.
So the populations up in the higher elevations have actually been able to really explode, so we've seen quite a bit of mortality in the white bark pine, which is considered a sensitive species to wildlife. Some of those trees were up to 800 to 1000 years old. So it is alarming to see those trees just in one summer be taken out. We've started collecting cones, and we're growing new seedlings now in the nurseries; and for the first time we actually went up and planted some seedlings up at the head of 4th of July Creek where we had a large burn up there in 2005. And we're going to be repeating those efforts to try to restore that eco-system.
Explain the pheromone patches and how they work.
When the bark beetles attack a tree, they don't want to eat themselves out of house and home; so the pheromone changes to a basically "no vacancy" signal; so any new beetles that are coming in fly by that tree and will continue on. So we've been pouching where we can, putting up these little pheromone patches on the trees up in the high elevations and some critical habitat areas.
Isn't it tricky to thin lodgepole pine?
You can thin lodge pole pine, but you have to do it very, very lightly. You can't break up the canopy too much because they will eventually be susceptible to wind throw, but if you thin them at a young age and they are able to establish fuller crowns, bigger root systems, then through time they will look good. But you have to do that at a young age. To do it when they are mature is a little bit more difficult.
Does the public understand the need to thin lodgepole pine before a wildfire takes them out?
What I've learned during this infestation and working with the public is that a lot of folks just think the forest should stay the same. But there are changes happening. There are insects and disease out there; trees grow up, trees die. But then when it happens all at once, like we experienced early 2000, then that is quite alarming to the public.
It's always dynamic, always changing, and the big thing with infestation is that it just happens at once, and that's what became very upsetting to the public. And then they realize that, hey, maybe I do need to cut some trees for defensible space, because it is getting harder and harder to fight fires. And they're more intense than we've ever seen before.
Bob Hayes was the founding executive director of the Sawtooth Society. He also served as president of the non-partisan Society. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What's the mission of the Sawtooth Society?
The Sawtooth Society was formed in 1997 to address two specific threats to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The first was inappropriate development, and the second was a deteriorating recreational infrastructure. Fifteen years have passed, and the Sawtooth Society has been largely successful in preventing inappropriate development by successfully encouraging Congress to give the Forest Service approximately $17 million dollars to acquire conservation easements on private land within the SNRA, including a 160 acre parcel in the Stanley Basin which was already slated for a 20-unit subdivision.
The Society has also invested well over $500,000 to enhance the recreational infrastructure within the area — trails, camp sites, interpretive programs, search and rescue services, emergency rescue, emergency and medical services and more. And then more recently the Society conceived of and helped initiate something called Sawtooth Vision 20-20, which is a long term strategic management plan for the area that both public entities like the Forest Service and private entities have subscribed to and are carrying out to this day.
Tell me more about the Sawtooth Vision 20-20.
It involves both public and private entities, both government agencies like Blaine County, Custer County, the U.S. Forest Service, Fish and Game, the city of Stanley, as well as some private organizations. And the aim here is to focus on those management activities — whether they be public or private — that are going to have the greatest potential benefit in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
We developed this back in 2006. It was a cooperative effort, and it is alive and well to this day. In fact, earlier in 2012 we had an update in which members of the community gathered at the community center in Stanley, and we reviewed the progress that had taken place with the previous year. It is amazing how cooperative people have been. I think there was a fair amount of skepticism going in. Well, I think some people thought, let's give it a shot, let's see how it works. Let's see if this is for real, and they surprised themselves. They've stuck with it.
Why is it working?
I think it is a universal desire on the part of people who live, work and play in the Sawtooth Recreation Area, to make sure that it remains a special place. And it is a special place. It's a special place to all the stakeholders. As a matter of fact, I was in Stanley earlier today, and I overheard some visitors from Scandinavia marveling at what they had seen here, their experience here. And you know, for somebody who comes from that part of the world, which is pretty spectacular in and of itself, it just underscores the specialness of this place.
Donna Marie and I moved to Idaho in 1971 and we decided we would go back to Boise over Galena summit though Stanley and back down through Lowman and Idaho City — and we were absolutely blown away. It was like we had just entered the center of the universe. We decided then and there that this is where we wanted to spend more and more of our time. Our children, all of whom are grown now with their own families, spent every weekend here. As a matter of fact, they were probably the only children that most people knew who never once asked to go to Disneyland and, by the way, who never got to go to Disneyland because we were always here enjoying the Sawtooths.
So you have seen some changes here, no doubt.
One of the beauties of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is that it hasn't changed much. What you don't see is what is important, and what absolutely blows people's minds away when they've come over from the Wood River Valley is they look down into the Sawtooth Valley and see this wide open expanse. They see the Sawtooths to their left; they see the White Clouds to their right. They see the Salmon River running down the middle of this broad valley, and they can't imagine why it isn't filled up with homes.
And the reason is because members of Congress in 1972 had the wisdom to designate this area a National Recreation Area, and they gave the Forest Service the resources necessary to acquire conservation easements on much of the private land in the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin. That is why you see as little development here as you do and why it will remain this way for generations to come.
Explain how a conservation easement works.
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement, a contract, between — in this case the U.S. Forest Service and a private land owner — in which the private land owner agrees to be compensated in exchange for limiting development on his or her property. For example, most of the private land that existed at the time that the Sawtooth Recreation Area went into effect in 1972 exists today. In fact, I believe the number is something like 75%. That is because the Forest Service chose not to come in and try to acquire the property in fee, which would have been terribly expensive and quite frankly, unnecessary. Instead, they opted for conservation easements which limited development in many cases to a single home site; maybe on a particularly large property like a ranch, maybe they would allow two or three potential home sites.
A gorgeous area that never became a national park. Are you disappointed?
This area has been considered special for a hundred years or more. In fact, dating back to the early part of the 20th century, there had been proposals to make this a national park because of its very special characteristics. But it was an idea that never seemed to gain much traction. primarily because Idahoans opposed it. Idahoans knew that hunting, for example, was not allowed in national parks. They didn't want to give up that activity here in the Sawtooths and White Clouds.
Efforts to protect the area ebbed and flowed for a number of years, and finally around 1970 people got serious about protecting it once again, but this time the proposal was for a new fangled resource designation called a national recreation area. And unlike a national park, it allowed private property to be held within its boundaries; it allowed hunting; it was not managed as intensively as a national park; and I think, from my own perspective, I must tell you I think that was a wise decision.
We're free to come and go in a national recreation area. We don't have a lot of rangers around with ranger hats on telling us to stay on the asphalt paths or stay out of here or stay out of there, and I think that's the way most people like it. I know it is the way Idahoans like it, and I know it is the way my wife and I like it.
How closely has the U.S. Forest Service hewed to the original concept of a National Recreation Area?
I think the concept of a national recreation area for the Sawtooths and the White Clouds, the Sawtooth valley and the Stanley Basin, the headwaters of the Salmon River was a terrific idea; and I think, looking back 40 years, it has been a marked success. That isn't to say that everything is perfect, but it's darn near perfect, and people ought to be very happy that members of Congress and just ordinary citizens had the foresight to do what they have done; and I hope that they appreciate the efforts that organizations like the Sawtooth Society have made to carry on the tradition and make sure this place remains special for generations to come.
And I think the challenge ahead of us now is to make sure that we keep those protections in place and that this area remains a wonderful place for my grandchildren and their children and their children. And I have every reasonable confidence that will occur.
One of the arguments for national park status is that there would be more funding available.
Money is always an issue, and I think it is an issue with national parks as well. You hear national park advocates complain about being underfunded, and the parks are deteriorating. They have interest groups like the Sawtooth Society working on their behalf, just like the Sawtooth National Recreation Area does. The bottom line here is... you look around. You look at the Sawtooths, you look at the White Clouds, you look at the Sawtooth valley and you have to ask yourself whether more money would have helped make this place more special than it already is. And I'm not so sure that it would.
What you need are dedicated public servants and people — ordinary citizens — who join together to make sure that it stays special.
Has the Sawtooth Society taken a position on Congressman Simpson's CIEDRA proposal for the White Clouds?
When Representative Simpson first proposed wilderness legislation known as CIEDRA for the White Clouds and the Boulder mountains and other portions comprising parts of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, we told him that we could support his bill as long as it didn't have an adverse effect on the existing Sawtooth National Recreation Area — because that's what the Sawtooth society is all about. We are not a wilderness advocacy group per se, although we can support wilderness. Our objective is to protect the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. And as long as his wilderness proposal did no harm, we felt we could support it. We did, and we have, and we are.
Any surprises over the last several years with this whole process?
There is one issue going forward that has emerged, and that is recognition that the four sections of land owned by the State of Idaho within the boundaries of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area can pose a problem. They are not bound by the terms of the federal legislation that created the SNRA. In fact, they were explicitly exempted from those rules and regulations. And the Idaho Department of Lands has an obligation to manage those properties for the school trust fund. As a result, those lands could be potentially used in ways that are injurious to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
For example, in the 4th of July Creek drainage just off of Highway 75 is a large open pit gravel mine that the Department of Transportation opened about four years ago. And while we were very respectful of the fact that the State of Idaho can use its lands in any way it chooses, we do and they do as well understand that some uses of their land could be contrary to the values of the SNRA. So the Sawtooth Society is working with the federal government — specifically the Forest Service and the State of Idaho — to see if, long term, we can swap out those four parcels of state land for federal lands elsewhere in the state of Idaho and thereby eliminate the potential conflict.
It's a very complicated, very long term issue. There are times in the summer when they have klieg lights, back-up alarms, crushers, smoke, and you're right out in the middle of the Sawtooth valley with the Sawtooths as a backdrop, and you say to yourself, there's got to be a better place to do that than right here. And I think everyone understands that, but the reality is the highway department needs gravel to maintain the roads, and it's a good source of gravel. Unless we can find another source for them that is acceptable, or unless we can swap out the lands in total, we're going to continue to have these potential conflicts.
Any personal victories over the years that you feel really good about?
I spent the first 40 years of my working career in a corporate environment. It was very satisfying, and it was rewarding and I enjoyed it immensely. But the last 10 or 12 years since my retirement from Boise Cascade, working for the Sawtooth Society and getting it started and up and running has been, I think, the most satisfying time of my life. It has been an absolute joy.
Virgil Moore is the director of the Idaho Fish & Game Department. One of his first jobs was working at the fish hatchery outside Stanley. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
How did the Sawtooth hatchery get its start?
The Sawtooth hatchery was actually a fairly recent creation. It is part of the mitigation responsibility for lower Snake River dams. And it uses Bonneville Power Administration funding through what we call the Lower Snake River Compensation Plan; and it's one of several facilities, but it is our primary facility in the upper Salmon River country; and it was located there so that we could get maximum exposure of those mitigation fish to the anglers so they would have the opportunity to make that work.
Prior to the Sawtooth hatchery being there, the Department of Fish and Game had that property. We had a couple of ponds there that we would put chinook in to acclimate and rear out in earthen ponds. They had terrible fish health issues, and that was in the 1960's and ‘70s before we really understood some of what was going on. They were never very successful. And so that site was the site for the Sawtooth hatchery.
And that's where you got your start?
I started with the Department of Fish and Game in 1977, after I finished up my graduate work on steelhead at Idaho State University. I got on a project there as a temporary, walking every tributary to the upper Stanley basin, estimating how much gravel there was in there that wasn't being used by spawning salmon. That information was then used by the Department to go out and seek funding to try to fix the irrigation diversions that were blocking that. If you remember the history, some of those diversions were total blocks to all of the anadromous fish — even in the upper main Salmon River — and we pretty much rectified all of that.
That's an example of the collaborative work that went on. The funding for that came from outside of the Department. That information was then used to try to secure the support from land owners, Forest Service, the funding entities, to get that work done. It took decades to get that work done — and we're still to some degree doing some of that work up there.
So this hatchery is significant for the future of salmon in this area?
For the upper Salmon River, it definitely is. The only other upper Salmon River hatchery program we have is at Pahsimeroi, and that is an Idaho Power mitigation facility. We have satellite facilities. We don't rear any fish, but we capture and stock a few fish in the east fork of the Salmon, but that's part of the Sawtooth facility complex that takes care of the upper Salmon and the east fork of the Salmon.
In 1978 the Fish & Game Commission closed all salmon fishing in the upper Salmon River. It was a huge issue. There were demonstrations and fish-ins in Salmon, Idaho. A lot of consternation by the public that you can't take my salmon fishing away from me, but the Commission took that action as a conservation initiative, to be sure that our spawning fish — the few that were left — were taken care of. That was just prior to us really getting into the Sawtooth hatchery and beginning to build that.
The Pahsimeroi hatchery was there, but it wasn't really functional. We were learning a lot about how to operate our hatcheries, to get fish back, while we were learning how to manage the main stem and the migration corridor.
That is history. Then 30 years later, in 2008, we opened a salmon season. Now we always had some steelhead in there, but the salmon fishery itself is what is so iconic to the river named Salmon. And to be able to finally, after 30 years, open that back up in 2008 for salmon fishing was particularly satisfying to me, having been there when we closed it. It certainly makes you realize that within a career span, you can get things done that are important. And we have been able to maintain some level of salmon fishing since 2008 up there. Not always easy to do, and not a large amount of harvest, but certainly still insuring that legacy continues.
Is this an example of successful collaboration by governmental entities?
I'll give you an example. We were trying to figure out what to do for salmon and steelhead in the Stanley Basin; this encompassed the period of the ‘70s and the ‘80s. The ‘80s were a real eye-opener for fishery science and range conservation, relative to the impact that grazing can have on riparian areas; and the Sawtooth NRA did not prohibit those activities. It prioritized recreation and conservation for salmon and steelhead. And we were very active working up there to try to get proper grazing plans in place.
It was a head-butting experience as we tried to move forward. But once we began working with ranchers on demonstration projects, once we began working collaboratively with the Forest Service and evaluating and learning together, we began to see the transition through that.
The conflicts over that are pretty much gone. The practices are well accepted and understood, that they don't exclude that multiple use of the grazing resources up there; but it certainly has to be managed slightly differently to insure that we get all of the benefits that were expected when Congress enacted the SNRA.
Ranchers seem to be excited about the recent successes in the Lemhi valley.
Absolutely. The upper Salmon basin has been a huge focus for years in a collaborative fashion, to work on habitat and water flow issues. Traditionally, collaboration was the Department, the land management agency and those affected. Now it's the Tribes, the county, the land owners, the Farm Bureau, the Cattle Association, the BLM, the Forest Service, Noah Fisheries. I could probably go on, and they are all active as a community working together in that upper Stanley Basin, to find solutions that keep working lands working, while meeting the needs of the wildlife resources that we have up there, particularly our salmon.
In the Sawtooth region we have three ocean-going fish.
We have the three native anadromous fish: sockeye salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead — the anadromous form of the rainbow trout, essentially. And each of those is unique in its own way. Certainly, chinook salmon is the iconic fish for the Basin up there; and that's because they're so visible. They come back in the fall. Right now you can go up there and see them on the gravel spawning and completing their life histories, sacrificing their carcasses back to the nutrients for the juveniles to utilize, to get big enough to go back to the ocean and complete the life cycle again.
Sockeye are a salmon from the Salmon River and they're red fish from Redfish Lake. Sockeye have defied the odds. They're the underdog of the fish world, and we came so close to losing that group of fish. In the ‘90s they were listed, the first of our salmon and steelhead that were listed as endangered, an imminent extinction risk.
The story of our single male coming back that had been nicknamed Lonesome Larry, we still have his carcass hanging on the wall as a symbol of the fact we got that low. Working collaboratively with the Shoshone Bannock Tribe, we were able to build the support to recover these fish. And certainly we're not close to recovery, but the imminent extinction threats are gone. We have the life histories secured sufficiently and are taking measures with our new sockeye hatchery to insure that we have thousands of adults returning, that can spawn and rear in fresh water and experience the whole migration and ocean rearing, instead of keeping them inside of the Eagle hatchery to raise to adults so we can strip the eggs out of them. And so it's a huge success.
So you are optimistic?
I am. I believe that through the collaborative efforts that during my career span since 1977 in Stanley Basin, with the research and management efforts, with the help of our elected officials and appointed officials insuring that we have the financial resources and the policies in place that allow us to get this work done, I think we're learning how to manage the Columbia Basin so that our precious resources that are there are taken care of.
Our hatchery resources are a mitigation debt owed to the people of Idaho for that hydro power. We've got to be sure that that hatchery resource is managed properly so that our wild listed stocks are properly taken care of, and we are doing that. We're very close to insuring that we don't have negative influences from our fish management programs for that mitigation debt interfering with our abilities to recover these wild stocks over all.
It's a tremendous amount of science and policy development that has occurred, and the engagement within the basin of the Tribes has been a huge part of adding to that, both from a financial and a science base. Our Tribes have become very advanced and major players in our salmon and steelhead management in this state.
And what about the Forest Service?
I think we as partners often have disagreements how to do management, but not over the need for management. And I think those will continue, given the slightly different orientations we have; but certainly without the Forest Service and the BLM and the counties being there from a policy and land management standpoint, we couldn't have achieved what we've achieved today.
One of the things that makes the SNRA unique is it encompasses a breadth of values for Idahoans. You know what the origin was — let's make it a national park — but because hunting isn't allowed in national parks, Idahoans withdrew from that and looked for a unique opportunity to insure the existence of this landscape, as is, but with the full breadth of values being able to be used up there that they traditionally have.
The SNRA and the combination of the wilderness and the back country areas up there seem to have got that balance taken care of.
Mike Stevens is with Lava Lake Land and Livestock, a sheep operation based in Hailey. Lava Lake was formed in 1999 and operates on about 900,000 acres of private, state, and federal land in the Craters of the Moon and Boulder Mountains just east and north of Sun Valley. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
You really experience the Sawtooth NRA differently from those of us who come here to fish or hike.
We knew from the get-go as the founders of Lava Lake were putting together the 5 historic ranches that comprise Lava Lake, that part of the appeal for them of running this operation was the very fact that there was a very close and almost essential relationship between the sheep operation, the public lands, and the potential to achieve a lot of conservation; if we could manage our sheep grazing well, we would have a positive impact on a much larger landscape than just our 24,000 acres of private land.
Our sheep travel about 125 miles each year from south to north, and the SNRA provides one of our areas that we go to during the months of June, July, August and September. So it's a vital part of the operating area for us, as it is for other sheep producers in the range.
I think the thing that we see about the SNRA is it really brings the issue of multiple use to a head, in that we are grazing large bands of sheep — often more than a thousand animals in each band — in an area that is just a few miles from Ketchum and Sun Valley; so there is a lot of intense recreational use. There is a very active environmental community in the valley that takes a deep interest in what is going on in literally their back yard. And it is also a place that has a long history of sheep grazing, and we have tried to balance our ability to graze and fatten up our lambs and grow a marketable product on public lands with our conservation mission, which has been to try to restore and improve the conditions of the land — both on the private lands that we own as well as on the public lands where we have permits to graze like the SNRA.
What are some of the issues you've dealt with on the Sawtooth NRA?
I think the biggest issues that we have dealt with on the SNRA, in addition to managing the relationship with the recreational community, have been related to grazing management, just more broadly, and wolf management. So we went through an allotment review process on this allotment, the North Fork Boulder allotment in 2005,2005, and 2006.
And really the outcome of that process was that we volunteered to withdraw certain portions of our allotment out of grazing — mainly the high elevation basins where people want to go and hike. We felt that there was not a whole lot of forage in those areas for the sheep, and we really hadn't been using them very much anyway. It just made a lot of sense to just say that's going to be off-limits. But a lot of the rest of the allotment continues to be very productive ground for us.
The second big issue that we dealt with was wolf management. And the Phantom Hill wolf pack which has received a lot of attention over the years, set up shop right in the middle of our grazing area on the North Fork Boulder allotment in 2007.
And we had been working very closely with state and federal agencies, with Defenders of Wildlife, in developing proactive nonlethal tools to minimize or eliminate losses of sheep to wolves; and we had formalized that effort through the Wood River Wolf Project which was really focused on the SNRA west and north of Ketchum and particularly on the North Fork Boulder allotment. And over the following 3 years in 2009, 2010 and 2011, we were able to graze literally tens of thousands of sheep through the valley with no wolves being lethally controlled as a result of sheep depredations. So that was an enormous success.
What signal did your success with sheep and wolves send to folks?
That really sent a signal to the community in this area here that the sheep ranchers grazing on the SNRA and this portion of the SNRA are really committed to trying to develop a form of co-existence at some level, to try to create some sort of a balance. And I think, ultimately, that's really what the SNRA strives to do, and what makes it different from a national park, which is seeking that elusive balance amongst all these various uses.
I think the example of retiring some of the portions of the allotment from grazing is an example where multiple use doesn't mean you try to do everything in the same place. It means you try to figure out what is the optimum use for a particular portion of the landscape, or what is the optimum balance of uses. And that means at times we need to pull back on our use, and other times other members of the community might see some sort of balance that they need to accommodate in their particular use.
What if this had been a national park?
I've spent a lot of time in national parks. My first job in college was with the National Park service as a ranger in Yosemite, and I think I told 800,000 people where to go to the bathroom in one month in the Visitor's Center at Yosemite National park. But I love wilderness, I love being out in national parks. I think the opportunity, the goal with the National Recreation area and the goal of reflecting Idaho values is that we could potentially have a richer story than many national parks have.
I'll give you a very specific example. Some of the lambs that we are raising, at least partially here on the SNRA, are sent to market and then Lava Lake runs its own grass-fed seasonal and year round lamb program. So restaurants seven or eight miles away from us in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey are selling our lamb on their menus; and I think it's really an opportunity for us to figure out, okay, how do we raise lamb that people can eat locally that is raised out in a place that in most areas looks and feels like a wilderness, and can we balance those uses? And the balancing act is never clean; you are never done; it is rarely easy; but that is the struggle that I think we face across this country and around the world in terms of balancing human use and natural areas.
I think we're positioned here. If we can't do it here I don't know where we can do it. We've had visitors from Mongolia and Argentina who work on grazing issues, and we're the envy of the world in terms of our system of land management, of the relationship between people and nature. I think it is really important for us to experiment with these approaches and find that balance and struggle to maintain that balance.
Tim and Becky Cron own a bakery and the historic Sawtooth Hotel, both very successful businesses in the town of Stanley. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
How did you wind up in Stanley?
(Tim) How did we end up here in paradise? We saw that there was a small business opportunity in Stanley, Stanley Baking Company, and we had a dream of being able to work and live and recreate in the Stanley Basin. And when we saw that opportunity present itself, we thought we could do it. And here we are nine years later and still living our dream.
But you had to put a lot of work into the hotel?
(Tim) Yeah, we looked at it on a cold winter day, and it was disheveled. It was definitely a fixer upper, and we decided to go for it, and we put about four years work into it. It ended up being a great, fun project. A lot of work, but definitely rewarding, and seeing what it has become — it has become a gathering place for people in the Sawtooth valley, as it had been since 1931.
So you have breakfast and lunch at the Bakery, and dinner at the Hotel?
(Becky) We were serving dinner at the bakery, and it's a little bit smaller, so evenings you need a little more space. We didn't know how long it would take, but we were thinking, just kind of spread it out so it didn't really feel like more work, it just felt like more conducive for what we were offering.
How does your vision fit in with the rest of the town?
(Tim) You have four months of busy season here; June, July, August and into September are the busy seasons. We like that. We're trying to create a life where it's not all work. I think everyone in this area works really hard for these four months, and then they have a couple of months of slower time, and then you don't work that hard in the winter. And you recharge, and you get to recreate more in the winter, for sure, than you do in the summer, and that fits into our goals. We like to travel and recreate and ski in the winter.
(Becky) I think for Stanley, it helps all the businesses if people know they can come and get a cup of coffee, a nice meal, and then go hiking or biking or rafting. I think it helps Stanley as a whole, to have people call, 'Are you guys open?' And they'll stay.
(Tim) And it's a close knit business community here. Our best friends here in town are also in small businesses, so you work together to make the whole town for the people that come in from all around the world. That's an overall good feeling because you want guests to come here to have a great experience and also enjoy what this place offers as much as we do.
Do you have any hopes and dreams for Stanley and the SNRA?
(Tim) My hope is that the SNRA keeps doing what it is doing now, which is creating a great wilderness for humans to enjoy for eternity. My dreams would be that someday we get to mountain bike in the wilderness, but I don't know if that is going to happen. That's my honest answer.
Have you been surprised by anything?
(Becky) We were surprised by the amount of business. Really, we didn't know what to expect. We were ready to turn the bakery into a house and have a second home and still keep our jobs in Ketchum.
(Tim) And I think we were a bit surprised in this Sawtooth Hotel how much it meant to people when we started working on it. People would come by when we were renovating it, and they would convey to us how much this building really meant to them and the town throughout the years, because it is a landmark. That was definitely a surprise, how much it meant to most people.
Are you concerned that Stanley could get too big, if, say, a large recreation corporation decided to move into this area?
(Tim) I think the fact that this isn't a national park helps preserve it in that it is not as well known as the Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone. I think everyone here is a little scared of it getting to be too big, like Jackson Hole. We love it because of what it is; it's got small businesses that have character; it's got just enough tourists to keep it going, yet we don't have the masses of people the national parks have. That, in the big picture, is a real plus to this area.
(Becky) I think people enjoy it because it is tranquil and not built up. You just forget your stresses in your other life.
(Tim) There's a slower pace to living here than if it were inundated with millions and millions of people, and that's why most people love it here.
(Becky) They feel like they found a secret spot.
Margaret Fuller started writing her book on the trails of the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains in 1972, the year the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was established. And she's been writing ever since. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
How did you get involved in the Sawtooths?
My husband Wayne was born and raised in Buhl, Idaho, and as a boy scout he went up and they took trips in the Sawtooths. So when we got married in California and came to Boise at first to live, on our honeymoon he had to show me the Sawtooths; so we drove from his parents' place in Buhl up for the day.
We got to the top of Galena, but you couldn't see any mountains (because of the smoke), so he said, if we go down to Alturas, I think we can see mountains. We got to Alturas, but all you could see was wooded ridges. But the I.D. Department Store in Boise had these beautiful pictures of the Sawtooths, so I realized they really were beautiful.
And the first summer in 1957 we went up and camped at Redfish Lake. We didn't have much money, so we went the short way around through Bear Valley and it took us a day and a half to get up here. We got a camp ground, on the Point Campground, and the next day we took our 17 month old son, and had a little pack thing we strapped him on with belts, and we went to Bench Lakes. But we went straight uphill from the Point Campground instead of going on the trails, so we could have it shorter, and he kept sliding back, and we had to keep fixing him on.
In 1968 Wayne completed building a cabin — the outside of the cabin, that is. It was like an unfinished house inside, but we started staying in it and started taking hikes with the kids.
Do you have any favorite hikes in the Sawtooths?
I have lots of them. I just repeated one of my favorites the early part of the month with a friend from McCall. We took the boat to the end of Redfish Lake and hiked from there through to Grandjean, taking in Alpine Lake and Baron Lakes. We took a side trip to try to get to a lake that I tried to get to last year, and we were still not successful.
You talk about 20 miles like it's nothing.
Oh, it took us 4 days. Probably could have done it in 2 days when I was younger. I have had a lot of orthopedic problems, but I just persist because I love it so much.
How did you convince your children to love it?
My kids loved to explore. They loved exciting things, so it was kind of an adventure to come up here. There weren't maps. There was an 1896 Bear Valley topographic map, and Forest Service map that was not very accurate, so at least it had the names. I would give them three options and tell them what I think might be there, and so they would choose. If it was too far, it was their own fault.
I had hiked with my dad since I was about three years old in the Sierras. Grandpa wanted to go to Sawtooth Lake, and so all the kids went. Stuart was three. Doug, the oldest, convinced Stuart to believe he was a truck, and it had to get gas every now and then, and gas was lifesavers; and he managed to walk all the way up himself and almost all the way back.
We put the lifesavers on the rocks, the M&Ms on the rocks. Sometimes I read stories to them at the rest stops. When I started doing the Sawtooth book, the kids kind of had an interest in helping me, so I had volunteers to go places.
What goes into writing a trail book?
The techniques have kind of changed. I went from taking notes in a notebook and a manual typewriter to the age of computers and digital recorders. I hiked every trail that is written up in detail; and with newer editions, I went back and hiked some of them again and did a lot of checking with the rangers.
The SNRA book is called Trails Of The Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountains, although it also includes the Boulders and the Smokeys, because there is a little of the Smokeys in the SNRA. Last year, the 5th edition of that book came out, and we revised it. At first I had a publisher over in Washington state. It took 5 years to find that publisher. Now I have a little company with a man in Idaho Falls who works for the Post Register and his name is Jerry Painter. Trail Guide Books is the name of the company.
I started in 1972, the year that the SNRA was formed. I started writing my book about the Sawtooths then because my kids and I had such a time finding hikes that had both good access roads and trails you could follow. We ended up once on the road to Phyllis Lake, thinking we were going to 4th of July Lake and never getting there.
Then I saw a book on the Cascades, and I thought we need a book like that here, and so then I got the idea to write one. And I was taking some classes at the College of Idaho and I saw a poster on the door. It said they had put out a little booklet on I think it was 6 hikes in the Owyhee's and 6 hikes in the 7 Devils, so I went to see the director of the division of the college which was called the Snake River Study Center, and Donna Parsons, its director, acted as a mentor to me for a couple of years. She insisted I approach publishers, and she wrote a cover letter that went with my stuff I sent, but it still took a long time to get a real publisher who would stand the expense of publishing the book.
What do you like about the Sawtooth Wilderness?
I really like the Sawtooth Wilderness because it's so beautiful. I'm a scenery buff, I guess. The wildernesses that we have show that Idaho is planning for the future for its children. And this is one of the best, although in my travels in Idaho I found many other beautiful mountains, such as the Big Horn Crags in the Frank Church wilderness and over in eastern Idaho where it's not even wilderness — the Centennial Mountains and the Lost River Range, and various other places.
What are the ingredients of a good hike for you and your family?
For me it's scenery, but some of my family like to fish. We did a little hike in the White Clouds last summer, just for the purpose of the people catching fish. Although it's pretty, it's not that great — and I won't tell you where it is.
How would you assess the trail system today?
It just depends on the trail. I would say the main thing I noticed, especially in this trip I took in early August, was everything is completely clean. Linda and I found one pop can and some little piece of plastic. That's the only thing we found in four days that was left. It used to be you found trash everywhere, so they're doing a good job, even though with far less personnel. It's the public that has been educated that are really caring for the land, which is very nice.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area turned 40 this summer. Was it a good idea?
I think it was a good idea. The Forest Service likes to have their own areas to manage. They try to include all the different aspects, like from the wildlife and the plants to the motorized recreation. And that is really hard to balance. I can tell you examples of good things they are doing and things that maybe they should do a little better, but my complaint of trying to get more things done would be new bridges for hikers at some of the big crossings at creeks, because Linda and I had to crawl up — actually we scooted across on our rears on this slanting log at the north fork of Baron Creek. We need a foot bridge there. It could just be as simple as two planed off logs at a high enough place that it won't wash away. And there are other places like that that they could do, but that's a simple thing that wouldn't take much money.
I'm like most Idahoans; I don't really think we should have a park. You're going to get too much automobile pressure. Look at Yosemite. I climbed in Yosemite when I was young and there were not that many people. Now you have to take a shuttle bus to go see stuff, and there are still thousands of people. There would be too many people I think, and would put too much pressure on the area.
The White Clouds are protected, but not as Wilderness. Now there's a proposal by Congressman Mike Simpson to designate some of the White Clouds as wilderness. What's your take on that?
I believe it should be wilderness, and I have advocated that for many years. And I admire Congressman Simpson for having to try to do this. Before that Jim McClure and Cecil Andrus tried to get it wilderness, and it just didn't work. The climate had changed of the people's opinions, and I don't know why they got the Owyhee Wilderness, but I suspect this was perhaps a more polarized division of opinion between the people in Custer County and those who live in Blaine County. Hopefully, it still can be worked out sometime. I believe at least some of what Congressman Simpson has proposed should be wilderness because you're getting too many motorized recreationists, and they are doing too much damage to the trails.
How many miles do you figure you hike in a year?
It varies. At least 100 miles a year, sometimes 200, but all together probably I've hiked about 6,000 miles in Idaho over the years — because I had to go back and hike things over again. And when I did the Frank Church Wilderness, that was an awful lot of miles.
Are you ever concerned for your safety?
You know, I'm more danger to myself than any animal or other person could possibly be. For example, last year I went up to try to go to this lake that I didn't find and right at Flat Rock Junction which is three and a half miles from Red Fish, I sat down on a rock with my pack on. The rock was not flat. My pack tipped me over on the ground, and I fell on my camera, and it was a very nasty bruise on my ribs, but I was not going to turn around and go back because I bruised my ribs.
What about wolves?
They're kind of fun because they talk to you. They do. Wayne and I went with some friends into Marble Creek when I was revising the Frank Church book, and we went down into that canyon and we saw a couple of wolf cubs nearby. I can't remember if they howled first or their mother in the distance who we never saw. She howled and they took off; while we were eating, the wolves were howling back and forth at each other, probably telling the cubs to stay put. As we were starting up out of the canyon, the mother wolf howled like an all clear signal. You can come out now. They've left. And I've had other episodes like that.
What would you say to a young mother today who is trying to instill this in her children?
Start them really young. They should be out there in their baby backpack as an infant and even as a two year old. But they like the little trees, the little mushrooms and bugs. You work with a child as an individual, and if the parents are interested — it's just like with music — if the parents play music, the kids are going to want to do it, too.
By Bruce Reichert - September 7, 2012
Ever wonder why that breathtaking front of the Sawtooth Mountains isn’t populated by hundreds of condos and high rises and shops and subdivisions? What kept the Stanley basin from going the way of, say, the Bitterroot valley or Jackson Hole?
The answer may surprise you: Castle Peak in the White Clouds.
Since the 1950’s, Idaho’s U.S. Senator, Frank Church had been trying to preserve the Sawtooth front. But his solution -- a national park -- was going nowhere. Then, in the 1960’s, a mining company began doing exploratory work in the nearby White Cloud Mountains. The company, American Smelting & Refining Co (ASARCO), believed there was molybdenum at the base of Castle Peak, worth millions of dollars. The mining company planned an open pit mine and wanted permission from the Forest Service to punch a road into the heart of the White Clouds.
The governor at the time, Don Samuelson, didn’t see anything wrong with the idea. The 350 jobs it would provide Custer County would be a boon to the area. Besides, hardly anyone ever visited the White Clouds.
In 1969, a young College of Idaho staff member, Jan Boles, backpacked into the area with a colleague. After seeing helicopters and a caterpillar and men with chainsaws and hearing dynamite explosions, he wrote, “we began to feel less like backpackers approaching what has been called Idaho’s most magnificent mountain, and more like Tolkien’s hobbits sneaking toward the dark citadels of Mordor.” These photos of his are evidence that the mining company had already begun exploratory work near Castle Peak.
A young Democrat, Cecil Andrus, decided to make the mining of Castle Peak a campaign issue in the 1970 governor's race. “What they wanted to do was a crime,” Andrus told us recently, “and I said, No, we're not going to let that happen. And we didn’t.” Andrus won the governorship that year. Most political observers credit his stand on Castle Peak for the victory.
There's nothing like a crisis to goad folks into action. And not long afterwards, Church and Andrus and the rest of the Idaho delegation settled on a novel idea… to protect the Sawtooths and the White Clouds and the Boulder Mountains with something called a national recreation area, managed not by the National Park Service, but by the U.S. Forest Service.
The Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the SNRA, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year; and we’ve decided to honor the occasion with an hour-long Outdoor Idaho program, to air December 2nd.
We’ll let some of the key players tell the story of the history of the Sawtooth NRA. We’ll look at the area through the eyes of outfitters and photographers and tourists and others. And we’ll explore what was gained, and what may have been lost, and what is yet to be considered. I hope you can join us. Perhaps you’ll come away loving the Sawtooths – and the White Clouds – even more than you do now.
A Sawtooth Celebration - By Bruce Reichert - November 12, 2012
It would not surprise me if every Idahoan has, somewhere in a drawer, a favorite snapshot of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. It's hard to imagine a more photographed region of the state.
As a teenager, my buddies and I would spend a week at a time hiking the trails. Toxaway, Imogene, Hell Roaring, Spangle – the names are indelibly inscribed in my head. I still get a thrill seeing the massive granite batholith that is the Sawtooth Mountains, as I drive up Highway 21 toward Stanley.
When some friends – Byron Johnson and Patricia Young – suggested we profile the 40th anniversary of the creation of the SNRA, we knew immediately it would make a great addition to our Outdoor Idaho collection.
The program will cover the intense and fascinating battles leading up to the creation of the SNRA, but it seemed fitting to honor this national recreation area by also focusing on the many photographers who spend countless hours combing its peaks and valleys. Their work is truly inspiring.
In fact, it was a handful of photographers – Ernie Day and Jan Boles in particular – whose work convinced Idahoans to put a stop to the proposed open pit mine at the base of Castle Peak in the White Clouds, an action that ultimately led to the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
If you've been to our Outdoor Idaho Facebook page, you already know about our monthly 'Iconic Idaho' photo contests, where photographers from across the State share their work with the rest of us. It seemed only fitting to feature some of them in our hour-long special.
We met up with them at Redfish Lake Lodge earlier this summer. Although I'd been admiring their work for more than a year on Facebook, this was where I met most of them for the first time. What a blast! Their willingness to trust us with their wonderful photographs means Idahoans are in for a real treat on December 2nd.
Our show covers a lot of territory. We profile author and hiker Margaret Fuller; her books opened up the SNRA for many of us. We explore what's killing the trees in the forest; and we were there this summer for the wildfires. We profile some Stanley entrepreneurs who work hard to make the SNRA a fun place to visit. And we examine the value of the Sawtooth Society to the future of the region.
Even as we continue to work on the show, "A Sawtooth Celebration" is quickly becoming one of our favorite programs.
But then, what's not to like about the most photographed region of the state.
- Sawtooth National Recreation Area
- Sawtooth National Forest
- The Sawtooth Society
- The Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association
- The Sawtooth Camera from Stanley
- Redfish Lake Lodge Activities
- Redfish Visitor Center and Stanley Museum
- Redfish Lake Birding Trail
- Campground Guide
- Camping Near Stanley
- All Things Stanley
- Map and Activities
- Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Greg Stahl, Sun Valley Guide