Solitude in the River of No Return Wilderness…until all the motorboats

By Brett Haverstick

BrettI 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.

 

FCRONRW

 

Brett is Wilderness Watch's membership and development director.
 

Editor's note:

“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Commenting guidelines:

We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.

 

Wilderness for its own sake
Lost in the Winds
 

Comments 92

Guest - C K on Thursday, 26 August 2021 20:36

Motor vehicles belong on tracks designed for that purpose, not tearing up our forests, antagonizing wildlife, and damaging our ecosystem. If a frightened Mother bear attacks a bike, or cougar jumps one; who are they going to blame? Not the biker invading the homes of wild animals. This is a ridiculous mixture of nature vs joyriding machines.

Motor vehicles belong on tracks designed for that purpose, not tearing up our forests, antagonizing wildlife, and damaging our ecosystem. If a frightened Mother bear attacks a bike, or cougar jumps one; who are they going to blame? Not the biker invading the homes of wild animals. This is a ridiculous mixture of nature vs joyriding machines.
Guest - Laura Arias on Thursday, 26 August 2021 20:10

PLEASE SAVE THE WILDERNESS!

PLEASE SAVE THE WILDERNESS!
Guest - Jane Leavitt on Thursday, 26 August 2021 19:48

Our National Wilderness areas are homes for many animals and are places of recreation, refuge, solitude, and the experience of unsullied nature for many people. There are places that people can use motorized vehicles of all types that don't intrude on the natural habitat and ambience that wild areas provide. There is no reason for motor boats, ATVs, or motorized bikes to use in the wilderness as they are disruptive to animals and people using these areas. People who enjoy motorized recreation have many options specifically designated for their use and should not be allowed to impose the noise and pollution that these vehicles create on others who come to enjoy or study the environment

Our National Wilderness areas are homes for many animals and are places of recreation, refuge, solitude, and the experience of unsullied nature for many people. There are places that people can use motorized vehicles of all types that don't intrude on the natural habitat and ambience that wild areas provide. There is no reason for motor boats, ATVs, or motorized bikes to use in the wilderness as they are disruptive to animals and people using these areas. People who enjoy motorized recreation have many options specifically designated for their use and should not be allowed to impose the noise and pollution that these vehicles create on others who come to enjoy or study the environment
Guest - Patricia Dishman (website) on Thursday, 26 August 2021 19:38

Please preserve, preserve, preserve all wilderness left ! NO motor boats.

Please preserve, preserve, preserve all wilderness left ! NO motor boats.
Guest - Daniel Schmidt on Thursday, 26 August 2021 19:09

I love the wilderness and all Wilderness Watch does as a protector of it. I also own a boat. I enjoy boating: skiing, fishing, swimming, etc, on a reservoir far away from any designated wilderness. You can have your wilderness and be a boater too! Keep on doing what you are doing Brett!

I love the wilderness and all Wilderness Watch does as a protector of it. I also own a boat. I enjoy boating: skiing, fishing, swimming, etc, on a reservoir far away from any designated wilderness. You can have your wilderness and be a boater too! Keep on doing what you are doing Brett!
Guest - Joe L on Thursday, 26 August 2021 17:30

Respect mother nature.

Respect mother nature.
Guest - Charlene Boydston on Thursday, 26 August 2021 17:22

Over 50 yrs ago, my father & some buddies went down this "River of no Return"! He said it was very exciting! Probably had a lot more water, running through it then!

Over 50 yrs ago, my father & some buddies went down this "River of no Return"! He said it was very exciting! Probably had a lot more water, running through it then!
Guest - Donald Raymond Goppert on Thursday, 26 August 2021 16:09

The Pristine Wilderness deserves Peace, Solitude, Compassion, Sensitivity, Kindness, Respect and Great Unconditional Love. There is great danger with motorization. Wildlife, Flora, Fauna; All are adversely affected by Pollution, Noise, Refuse, Poaching, Guns, Yelling, Explosions, Fire, Drugs, Alcohol, Contraband, Paramilitary, Racist actions, Hunting, Trapping, Vandalism. "Parties" of drug/alcohol celebrating.

The Pristine Wilderness deserves Peace, Solitude, Compassion, Sensitivity, Kindness, Respect and Great Unconditional Love. There is great danger with motorization. Wildlife, Flora, Fauna; All are adversely affected by Pollution, Noise, Refuse, Poaching, Guns, Yelling, Explosions, Fire, Drugs, Alcohol, Contraband, Paramilitary, Racist actions, Hunting, Trapping, Vandalism. "Parties" of drug/alcohol celebrating.
Guest - Harriet Greene on Thursday, 26 August 2021 16:04

Noise! What can we do to rid ourselves of all the noise around us? Walk into the wilderness. And fight as hard as we can to keep the wilderness wild!

Harriet Greene

Noise! What can we do to rid ourselves of all the noise around us? Walk into the wilderness. And fight as hard as we can to keep the wilderness wild! Harriet Greene
Guest - Abbie R Bernstein on Thursday, 26 August 2021 15:58

Please keep motorboats out of this wilderness. They are a hazard to wildlife.

Please keep motorboats out of this wilderness. They are a hazard to wildlife.
Guest - Charles W Baumann on Thursday, 26 August 2021 15:36

Vile swine motor boaters. They should eliminate that provision to ban those motor boats forever. A wilderness area should be just that wilderness. If you want to proceed on the river, use paddles to do it. No loud engine noise, no contributions to global warming and a physical work out to boot.

Vile swine motor boaters. They should eliminate that provision to ban those motor boats forever. A wilderness area should be just that wilderness. If you want to proceed on the river, use paddles to do it. No loud engine noise, no contributions to global warming and a physical work out to boot.
Guest - Mindy Phypers on Friday, 27 August 2021 06:58

my feelings exactly.

my feelings exactly.
Guest - Pam Nelson on Thursday, 26 August 2021 15:28

Noise impacts have been ignored for too long. It is well-known that noise can stress humans to the point that physical illness can occur. Heart disease, migraines and nervous system problems, mental health and the like are exacerbated by noise above ambient levels. Wildlife have trouble communicating, finding nesting areas and are likewise stressed.
Human impacts are many, but noise is one impact that we have control over. Stop noise in the River!

Noise impacts have been ignored for too long. It is well-known that noise can stress humans to the point that physical illness can occur. Heart disease, migraines and nervous system problems, mental health and the like are exacerbated by noise above ambient levels. Wildlife have trouble communicating, finding nesting areas and are likewise stressed. Human impacts are many, but noise is one impact that we have control over. Stop noise in the River!
Guest - Ken Box on Thursday, 26 August 2021 15:11

All Wilderness must remain preserved exactly as originally defined.

All Wilderness must remain preserved exactly as originally defined.
Guest - Dianne Douglas on Thursday, 26 August 2021 15:05

My family, myself and our guests escape the city to the wilderness for peace, tranquility and reconnect with nature. We don't want the sounds of aircraft overhead to disturb our quietness, but more importantly, this is the home of our wildlife that we are suppose to protect and they don't deserve these disturbing noises that frighten and confuse them. No to motors in our wilderness.

My family, myself and our guests escape the city to the wilderness for peace, tranquility and reconnect with nature. We don't want the sounds of aircraft overhead to disturb our quietness, but more importantly, this is the home of our wildlife that we are suppose to protect and they don't deserve these disturbing noises that frighten and confuse them. No to motors in our wilderness.
Guest - William Gooch on Thursday, 26 August 2021 14:56

Thanks for sharing the perspective. Motorized vehicles are contradictory to the spirit of wilderness and are actively destructive to wildlife habitat and other aspects of the environment. Motorboats have some of the worst impacts given the noise, lack of air pollution controls, water pollution and other impacts they create.

I would however point out that the blanket lumping of rock climbing anchors in with motorized vehicles reflects both a lack of effective priorities and a lack of understanding. The use of motorized drills to place climbing anchors, like other motorized tools and vehicles, logically has no place in a wilderness. However, climbing and the limited use of fixed climbing anchors - when properly managed - cause no significant adverse impact in wilderness or other areas. I speak from many years of personal experience as a wilderness venturer and advocate, and as a climber and advisor to public land management authorities about the placement and use of climbing anchors in environmentally and culturally sensitive outdoor settings.

I suspect that much of the confusion stems from the explosion in popularity of "sport" climbing, which is a very different activity from traditionally-practiced "clean" climbing. The latter involves little to no permanent impact, although the occasional placement of a fixed anchor is sometimes helpful for safety reasons. Clean climbing is the approach that climbers naturally take when the use of motorized tools isn't desirable for ethical reasons, isn't available or isn't practical. Please be educated about these distinctions and try to avoid blanket disapproval of an entire category of recreational activity based strictly on the perceived impact of a narrow segment within the category.

Thanks for sharing the perspective. Motorized vehicles are contradictory to the spirit of wilderness and are actively destructive to wildlife habitat and other aspects of the environment. Motorboats have some of the worst impacts given the noise, lack of air pollution controls, water pollution and other impacts they create. I would however point out that the blanket lumping of rock climbing anchors in with motorized vehicles reflects both a lack of effective priorities and a lack of understanding. The use of motorized drills to place climbing anchors, like other motorized tools and vehicles, logically has no place in a wilderness. However, climbing and the limited use of fixed climbing anchors - when properly managed - cause no significant adverse impact in wilderness or other areas. I speak from many years of personal experience as a wilderness venturer and advocate, and as a climber and advisor to public land management authorities about the placement and use of climbing anchors in environmentally and culturally sensitive outdoor settings. I suspect that much of the confusion stems from the explosion in popularity of "sport" climbing, which is a very different activity from traditionally-practiced "clean" climbing. The latter involves little to no permanent impact, although the occasional placement of a fixed anchor is sometimes helpful for safety reasons. Clean climbing is the approach that climbers naturally take when the use of motorized tools isn't desirable for ethical reasons, isn't available or isn't practical. Please be educated about these distinctions and try to avoid blanket disapproval of an entire category of recreational activity based strictly on the perceived impact of a narrow segment within the category.
Guest - Brett Haverstick (website) on Friday, 10 September 2021 16:42

Hi William sorry for the delay in responding. I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about the difference between sport climbing and clean climbing and I appreciate your explanation. I included fixed anchors (I realize I put rock climbing in parentheses) as an example of instances where legislative exceptions have been made - the passing of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, in 2019. This special provision is yet another harmful precedent that is being repeated/included in more and more wilderness proposals. Thanks again for reading the post!

Hi William sorry for the delay in responding. I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about the difference between sport climbing and clean climbing and I appreciate your explanation. I included fixed anchors (I realize I put rock climbing in parentheses) as an example of instances where legislative exceptions have been made - the passing of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, in 2019. This special provision is yet another harmful precedent that is being repeated/included in more and more wilderness proposals. Thanks again for reading the post!
Guest - Dave Whipple on Thursday, 26 August 2021 14:55

Wilderness Areas are, by definition and human need, no place for motorized craft!

Dave Whipple

Wilderness Areas are, by definition and human need, no place for motorized craft! Dave Whipple
Guest - Renee Still Day (website) on Thursday, 26 August 2021 14:44

We desperately need to protect the very few remaining pristine areas left in our country. If people actually want to enjoy nature, it should be as "natural" as possible. No motors of any kind, especially motorized vehicles, like dirt bikes, or motor boats. Leave these areas alone. There are plenty of places that dirt bike riders etc. can go to without ruining the experience for everyone else.

We desperately need to protect the very few remaining pristine areas left in our country. If people actually want to enjoy nature, it should be as "natural" as possible. No motors of any kind, especially motorized vehicles, like dirt bikes, or motor boats. Leave these areas alone. There are plenty of places that dirt bike riders etc. can go to without ruining the experience for everyone else.
Guest - Carter on Thursday, 26 August 2021 14:44

“The single biggest threat to our planet is the destruction of habitat and along the way loss of precious wildlife. We need to reach a balance where people, habitat, and wildlife can co-exist – if we don’t everyone loses … one day.” —Steve Irwin

“The single biggest threat to our planet is the destruction of habitat and along the way loss of precious wildlife. We need to reach a balance where people, habitat, and wildlife can co-exist – if we don’t everyone loses … one day.” —Steve Irwin
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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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