By Brett Haverstick
I arrived at the Corn Creek trailhead about 4 p.m. in the afternoon. The sun was still hot, and the river canyon felt like an oven, particularly for May. After a few hours of hiking along the trail, I reached Horse Creek, a small tributary of the Salmon River. The creek was loud and brimming bank-to-bank with spring runoff. I decided to cross the creek using the foot-bridge—it was the wrong time of the year to wade into the water and attempt a stream crossing!
After hiking about ten miles, I found a place to camp near Fawn Creek Bar, which is one or two miles upstream from Lantz Bar. I pitched my tent, boiled water for soup, nibbled on a piece of chocolate, and gazed into the stars that were just beginning to appear in the evening sky. All was quiet, and everything seemed right in the world. I slid into my sleeping bag and slept deeply through the night.
I awakened to a bright blue sky arcing over my tent and the ponderosa pines that line the river’s banks. I sipped on some coffee, prepared breakfast and listened to the rhythm of the rapids. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, and I watched numerous ducks glide across the top of the river. I think they were Common Mergansers, but I couldn’t get to my binoculars in time to get a better look.
Shortly thereafter, while tidying up my camp, I heard the first boat engines of the day echoing in the canyon. The obnoxious noise was nearing closer, and I cringed with disappointment - I was hoping to have at least a few more hours of solitude before the roar of the motors invaded my conscience. Four motorboats passed me the day before, and I, unfortunately, expected to see even more over the holiday weekend. I knew the motorboat mobs would be out in full force.
The River of No Return Wilderness was established in 1980. At roughly 2.3 million acres, it’s the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48. It is located entirely in Idaho, and the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are charged with its stewardship. Frank Church‘s (D-ID) name was added to the Wilderness in 1984, not long after the Senator’s death. Today, the area is known as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RONRW).
Unfortunately, a special provision in the Central Idaho Wilderness Act, the legislation that designated the FC-RONRW, allowed motorboat use to continue along the main Salmon River. The original version of the legislation stated that future motorboat use couldn’t exceed current levels at that time (1978-1979), but when the bill made it out of conference committee, that language had been flipped on its head. The new legislation did away with a hard cap for future motorboat use, and instead, established the 1978-1979 motorboat use levels as the minimum.
Wilderness legislation that contains harmful provisions, such as allowing motorboat use, completely fails to honor and live up to the spirit and intent of the Wilderness Act. The authors of the act were clear in their intentions to prohibit motorized and mechanized use in Wilderness, “except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act.” Motorboat use certainly doesn’t meet this threshold.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of special provisions in wilderness legislation is quite common today. Congress is authorizing more and more exceptions for motorized access, wildlife management, private inholdings, landing strips, water rights, border patrol activities, fixed anchors (rock climbing) and more. Wilderness and the wilderness system are dying from a thousand provisions!
It’s up to wilderness advocates to ensure that this alarming trend doesn’t continue. If you’re tracking any wilderness legislation that contains harmful special provisions, contact your member of Congress and urge them to strip out the exceptions that run contrary to the Wilderness Act. Many special provisions are added to wilderness legislation at the behest of special interests, and it’s imperative that elected officials hear from concerned citizens.
You should also contact your local conservation group, and ask them if they support the legislation with the harmful exceptions. It’s equally important to hold your local conservation group up to the standards of the Wilderness Act.
I endured approximately fifteen motorboats racing up and down the main Salmon River on my three-day backpacking trip in the FC-RONRW. If we are to pass on an “enduring resource of wilderness” to future generations, then the wild character of the wilderness system must be preserved.
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Please do not allow bikes and motorized anything in this area. They tear up the woods and can scare wildlife and destroy the peace that nature provides. The animals were here first, they deserve peace too.
I sign so many petitions that fight to keep our wild lands and wildlife, yet I don’t mind because I really want to keep nature and wildlife in our world. We are destroying our planet and the wildlife residing upon her. I will submit comments and sign petitions to keep hope alive that we can save Gaia.
Motor boats, motorcycles and flying airplanes for sight seeing tours is an assault on our eyes, ears and sanity. Most rational people want to enjoy NATURE in the sights and sounds of NATURE herself!
We ALL need to protect these extraordinary places and ALL WILDLIFE who inhabit these places!
SAVE us from noise pollution!!! Please, ENOUGH!!!
Big thank you to everyone that took the time to read about this experience in Wilderness. The sheer number of comments is impressive, as well as the outpouring of emotion and thought. In order to preserve the wildness of our Wilderness Preservation System, we must organize and advocate for wilderness legislation that doesn't contain any special provisions or exceptions. One of the few current pieces of wilderness legislation free of any harmful special provisions pending in Congress is the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). There may be another bill out there that doesn't contain any exceptions, but it's very few and very far between. If you are following any wilderness legislation in your region be sure to see if it contains any bad language that runs contrary to the Wilderness Act, and if it does, tell your member(s) of Congress to see that the language is removed. You can find the text of the Wilderness Act on our website at https://wildernesswatch.org/wilderness-act. And please consider becoming a member of Wilderness Watch if you're not. Thanks!
Every state should have at least one 10-20 mile radius (man-made) noise free zone, which includes no motorboats, aircraft, vehicles, etc.
We escape to the wilderness to get away from the noise. The wilderness is home to our wildlife that we are to protect. They should be able to enjoy peace and tranquility in their homes. Put the wildlife and people's rights over profit.
Please, our lives are frenzied enough. We truly don't need the disruptive noise of engines to ruin our self-contemplation, nor to disturb the daily lives of precious animals that live on the landscape surrounding it.
Thank you for your post. I rafted the Salmon with friends about 20 years ago. We were fortunate enough to not encounter motorboats.
Motorized anything is incompatible with Wilderness. True wilderness should not have the sounds of motorized equipment or electronics. Motorized equipment also damages and pollutes the environment and should not be allowed in wilderness areas.
Noise generated by humans in wilderness areas affects animal behavior, according to studies. Following studies involving 62 species of animals, it was determined that human activity caused animals to become more nocturnal. Noise pollution interupts communication, foraging and even breeding patterns, according to over 100 recent studies. The danger of noise pollution extends also to plant life, driving away pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Its been said that there's real danger in loving wilderness to death.
no motorized anything . leave it peaceful and quiet, the way nature should be. let's respect what little we have left of this. no motorizes anything permanently!!
Thank you for your article. I am a UK supporter and so agree with all you have said. My husband and I have enjoyed many wonderful such quiet places as we camped for 50+ years. Since the arrival of covid and the increased presence in such places of many more people, it is now difficult to enjoy that same degree of quietness and solitude in which to commune with nature. I think it is essential that all authorities should stipulate respect by all for nature and our fellow creatures who also inhabit these places. Oh yes! we also had an inflatable with outboard motor and continued to visit rivers/canal/coast with the greatest of respect. We now visit more local countryside but choose our days and times well!!
Great story Bret, I encounter the same thing when I go peak bagging in the wilderness areas of the Sierra Nevada but it's not the motor boats here but military low level flights. We just need to keep fighting these issues until something happens, everything that I do to fight this gets ignored since low level flights have been going on since the early fifties in these mountain ranges before wilderness they are allowed to continue business as usual
It is all, ALL, about politics. Organized and money groups swing things and the Pols listen. Donate to outfits that sue them. Write letters when comments are solicited. Attend the local town hall meetings and speak up. AND VOTE! None of our special areas came to be gratis...It takes lots and lots of efforts to get them and we must expend lots and lots of efforts to keep them from being nibbled away...Death by a thousand compromises! Don't just be upset; get involved, fight back. Being sad doesn't save anything.
It is well past time to preserve all aspects of the wilderness for just that…wilderness. Quiet is essential for the solitude people and wildlife crave. It is public land…not entertainment land. There are plenty of places for electric and other mechanical equipment.