Middle Fork users in for a fight to save historic use.
Author: Mad Dog II
“The Frank Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” will once again be the rallying cry for all users of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and especially the users of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Visitors to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River inevitably express respect and admiration for the pristine condition of the 95 campsites along the river. Low impact camping practices that emphasize leave only footprints and ethics have preserved and protected Native American and early settler historical sites found on the Middle Fork. Both commercial and private groups have embraced camping practices that have the lowest possible impact on campsites and historical resources.
Despite the successful efforts of visitors to preserve and protect historical remnants along the river, on October 20, 2015 at a meeting in Stanley, Idaho, the Forest Service provided a review of their latest draft Historic Preservation Plan that would lead to unnecessary campsite closures. In response, Middle Fork outfitters raised questions about the Plan’s accuracy and intent. In December 2015, the Middle Fork District Ranger introduced a planning concept calling for the creation of a Heritage Action Team (HAT) to provide input on the re-drafting and future implementation of the Preservation Plan. MFOA supports the HAT concept.
The latest draft of the Historic Preservation Plan for the Middle Fork of the Salmon relies on observations compiled using Frissell condition classes. Sidney Frissell established this evaluation method in 1978 and it is a commonly used method of judging campsite impacts. The MFOA is concerned that Frissell campsite monitoring be used properly when evaluating Middle Fork archeological resources as there are a number of natural processes constantly in play such as erosion from wind and water as well as impacts from fire and wildlife. Despite potential monitoring flaws, the current draft of the HPP reflects that 90% of the Middle Fork camps have either improved or remained in the same condition between 1995 and 2014. Click here to see this comparison.
For 13 years between 1991 and 2004, Middle Fork Outfitters along with all Frank outfitters, the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association and non-commercial users of the Middle Fork and the Frank battled the Forest Service over their Draft Environmental Impact Study. The plan was so flawed that the Forest Service had to withdraw the almost 2 million dollar study and start over. Subsequently, the Forest Service listened to and worked with all users of the Frank to come up with a solid management plan that everyone could live with.
Now many years later another Salmon Challis National Forest archeologist (Timothy Canaday) is attempting to upset the entire Middle Fork campsite reservation system by drafting an unusable plan that would drastically curtail use on the Middle Fork and destroy not only viable outfitters business, but have a huge negative economic impact on towns like Stanley, Challis and Salmon while reducing non-commercial use as well.
Here are some bullet points from Canaday’s Draft 6 on the HPP that should scare the heck out of all users of the Middle Fork.
- Priority for this work should be given to those campsites with NRHP eligible sites that have a Frissell Condition Class of 3 and above. In other words, 32 of the 95 Middle Fork campsites would remain usable with present campsite capacity;
o Limited signing directing visitors to areas acceptable for kitchen and bathroom setup and tent sites should be considered on an individual basis for campsites with Frissell Condition Class 3 and above;
o Provide for an appropriate level of visitor use based on group size, campsite condition and cultural resource concerns. Consider a reduction in the number of campers allowed to use a campsite where at-risk archaeological sites are present and Frissell Condition Class is 4 or above;
o Develop a rest / rotation schedule for campsites with Frissell Condition Class 5 where at-risk archaeological resources occur with the assistance of the HAT and in consultation with the tribes and SHPO.
- Picketing stock at designated Middle Fork Salmon River campsites where archaeological resources could be disturbed will not be allowed. A Special Order will be prepared to prohibit stock users from picketing animals in specified river campsites.
- Develop and implement site-specific management direction for Middle Fork campsites with cultural resources subject to adverse effects from recreationists following cultural resource guidelines in FSM 2360 and in consultation with SHPO and affected federally recognized Tribes. Sixteen campsites (Airplane Camp, Camas Creek, Cow Creek, Grassy I, Grassy II, Hospital Bar, Indian Creek, Lower Jackass, Rock Island, Sheep Creek, Sheepeater, Stoddard Creek, Survey Creek, Tumble Creek, Wilson Creek, and Woolard Creek) are particularly at risk (see Middle Fork campsite discussion below).
Below is some additional verbiage from the Draft 6 of the HPP.
While present day wilderness river users practice some of the best Leave-no-Trace camping techniques in the world, the sheer number of visitors to the rivers over the last 50 – 60 years, coupled with little to no camping and use restrictions during the first 25 years of recreational boating have resulted in adverse effects to archaeological and historical resources.
Frissell condition class data provide a good proxy for looking at the effects of recreation use at Middle Fork Salmon River campsites containing archaeological sites. Sixty-nine percent (67) of all designated campsites on the Middle Fork Salmon River contain at-risk cultural resources (Table 9). Fully 75% (50) of these campsites have been rated with a Frissell condition class of 4 or 5 since 1995; a level that is considered here to be unacceptable since artifacts and features would be exposed at the surface and subject to degradation. In 2014, 30 campsites containing at- risk cultural resources were rated with a Frissell condition class of 4 or 5. Based on data gathered in 2014 an additional 20 campsites containing at-risk cultural resources have a Frissell condition class of 3 and so are on the verge of unacceptable levels of disturbance. It is not surprising then to note that of the 62 Middle Fork Salmon River campsites currently allowing up to 30 individuals, 49 (79%) contain cultural resources at-risk and Frissell condition classes of 4 or above have occurred at 45 of these campsites (73%) since 1995. Twenty-six campsites (42%) with cultural resources at-risk were reported to have a Frissell condition class of 4 or 5 in 2014. Frissell condition class 5 occurs only at campsites allowing up to 30 campers. Clearly, Middle Fork Salmon River campsites with at-risk archaeological sites are being over utilized leading to adverse effects to these sensitive, non-renewable resources.
A rest/rotation schedule for campsites with Frissell Condition Class ratings of 5 should be developed with the assistance of the HAT and in consultation with the tribes and SHPO. Finally, additional areas suitable for boater camps need to be surveyed and subsequently cleared for campsite development if found to be free of sensitive cultural resources. Additional camps would alleviate pressure on currently overused areas and would allow for the successful rest/rotation and group size reduction described above.
Given over 20 years of records, intensive monitoring, and archaeological sampling the assertion that camping on Middle Fork archaeological sites has led to the damage, and in some cases, destruction of significant archaeological features, is well founded (Matz 2006). However, while camping appears to be the primary factor leading to site disturbance of archaeological resources at Middle Fork campsites, the effects of stock use and natural disturbance factors (wildfire, flooding, etc.) are also recognized. The use of stock traveling through an archaeological site on an established trail is an acceptable level of risk. However, picketing stock for any appreciable amount of time can lead to devastating effects to near-surface and sub-surface archaeological deposits (Figure 16). Therefore, recreation and administrative use of stock along the Middle Fork Salmon River should be confined to the existing Middle Fork Trail tread where the A rest/rotation schedule for campsites with Frissell Condition Class ratings of 5 should be developed with the assistance of the HAT and in consultation with the tribes and SHPO. Finally, additional areas suitable for boater camps need to be surveyed and subsequently cleared for campsite development if found to be free of sensitive cultural resources. Additional camps would alleviate pressure on currently overused areas and would allow for the successful rest/rotation and group size reduction described above.
Some points to emphasize to Forest Service and Mr. Canaday who in this author’s opinion seems to want to be an outfitter with the sole purpose of leading groups down the river and show them what grand work (or its destruction of recreational use) he has accomplished.
- Canaday states that he should close some camps and open new campsites. Bad idea. In a few years you would have 2 campsites that are showing use. One that is closed and the new camp site. The old campsite according to Forest Service researcher David Cole’s study would take almost 100 years to return to an unused condition.
- Canaday states the deplorable condition of Hospital Bar from river users. However, the vast majority of damage done at Hospital Bar campsite was from a herd of elk estimated at about 100-150 head wintering there. The elk have made large depressions from rolling and bedding down and have turned the place into a mud hole in late winter early spring.
- Canaday sites the poor condition of Tumble Creek camp. This campsite has been ravaged by fire twice since the mid 1980’s. Fire went through that this camp and baked the soil and to this day the ground still has that black soot that clings to clothes and equipment. Historically, this campsite was also used as a garden site by Earl Parrot, one of the early pioneers on the Middle Fork. Before the recent fires, this camp was in good conditions. So it is not river recreationists using this that camp that has what Canaday calls poor condition but rather the fires that did most of the damage.
- Canaday shows a photo of the Tumble Creek campsite that he states is barren of vegetation. He fails to explain that the photo was taken in late August after the majority of seasonal use has occurred gives it a barren dried up look. Canaday should show a photo from early May that also depicts how this camp recovers annually. It is my guess he will want to close this camp along with a couple of dozen more. Canady is using much of what Forest Service archeologist Steve Matz attempted to put in place in the 1990’s.
Tumble Creek campsite in June
- Outfitters hosted a trip with Steve Matz back in 1997 the 90’s that included a Tribal representative who saw nothing wrong with camping at any of the campsites that were inspected during that trip. She stated, “Looks like a good place to camp”. She also added, “Just don’t drive any tent stakes into the house pits and no digging or excavation by anyone, including the Forest Service.”
- NO signing. Can you imagine pulling into a Wilderness river camp and there are signs stating where to put your kitchen, tents, eating area.
- Horse users along the Middle Fork will not be thrilled by Canaday wanting to close many camps due to what he calls significant damage done by horses and mules.
- Canady suggests clearly delineate off-limit areas to reduce potential for further disturbance. Just what we need is more signs… Better education and focused mapping of fragile sites would go a lot farther to protect sensitive areas. Enhanced educational briefings at put ins to entire user the entire groups and showing them where not to put tents would go a lot farther than just handing the a party leader who signs the permit and say don’t place tents here.
- Canaday states in the latest draft of the HPP, “Restrict use of campsites based on river level when sand beach is available to discourage use of upper terraces.” Sand camp use only comes into play at very low water levels in August to early September. Most of the sand camps are small in size and will not hold large groups.
- Caaday advocates rest rotation of camps. Middle Fork Outfitters have been advising a structured system of camp rotation that would have minimal effect on campsite capacity for over 25 years to no avail. The time to rest camps is from spring through the first week or two of June. Then rest camps again starting in September and as use dwindles close some camps for the rest of the fall season.
Stay tuned for Draft #7 that is slated to be available in early April of 2016 that Forest Service officials say will be much friendlier to outfitters and all users of the Middle Fork. If one goes by the past track record of the Forest Service…Well…don’t hold your breath.
AND remember “The Frank Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It”
You can view entire HPP Draft 6 at this linkhttp://www.idahosmiddlefork.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/HPP-Current-Draft.pdf