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Scoping Notice For Winter Travel Plan Revisions Fairfield Ranger District - Sawtooth National Forest

Published online: Mar 21, 2010 News

(ED-We're kind of slow in getting this information up, but if you ride the Fairfield area, you should make the effort to comment on this. The deadline is March 22. The first half of this is information from the Forest Service while the second half are suggested comments.)

 

From The Fairfield Ranger District

Dear Stakeholder :

The Fairfield Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest provides many opportunities for winter recreation. Current activities include: snowmobiling (groomed trails and backcountry riding), alpine skiing at Soldier Mountain Ski Area, backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing (ungroomed), snowshoeing, kite-skiing and Outfitter and Guided heli-skiing and cat-skiing. 

 

I am considering revisions to the Districts Winter Travel Plan in response to concerns that have been expressed to me concerning access to the winter backcountry travel areas in the Upper South Fork Boise River area.

 

Currently, an area buffering and including the road corridor from Couch Summit to Fleck Summit (FR 227 and 012) is closed to motorized use from December 1 to April 30. The primary reason for this closure has been to minimize disturbance of wintering wildlife that use the areas adjacent to the Big Smoky feed site and nearby riparian habitats (see map). The closure has been in effect since 1989. Management of the closure is complicated by the fact that there are multiple parcels of private land in the Big Smoky, Little Smoky, Upper South Fork Boise River, and Lower South Fork Boise River drainages. The owners of these parcels are entitled to access through federal land for the "reasonable use" of their property by federal law (ANILCA).   Access, through the motorized winter wildlife closure, for property owners is managed through a permit system that gives the landowners, and their guests, motorized access to their properties.  This access is by snowmobile or other over-snow vehicle. No road plowing is authorized. The unintended effect of this is that the land owners and their guests, by virtue of their access permit, have almost exclusive use of the winter backcountry travel areas in the Upper South Fork Boise River area. I receive many requests each year from snowmobilers to open the corridor so the general public can have motorized access to the winter recreation opportunities in the Upper South Fork Boise River area.

 

Monitoring of elk use of the wildlife closure area suggests that winter elk numbers and distribution have changed in recent years. More elk appear to be migrating to winter range south and west of the South Fork Boise River Corridor than when the wildlife closure was first implemented. They appear to be tending to migrate out of the area, to the south and west more than when the wildlife closure was first instituted. These recent changes in how elk are using the area and the requests to consider allowing motorized access through the closure area, have prompted me to review our winter travel plan in this area. I am considering the following options:

 

1.      No change in the current situation.

2.      Keep the existing motorized closure in effect, but close the headwaters of the Upper South Fork Boise River to motorized winter use. This would have the potential to:

·        Reduce motorized use in the corridor. Landowners and their guests would have less incentive to use their property as a base for trips into the headwaters backcountry for motorized activities, thus reducing the number of trips in to the private parcels. The amount of reduction of use is speculative.

·        Create equity between property owners and the public.

·        Eliminate potential effects on winter wildlife by excluding all motorized use in the Upper South Fork Boise River area.

3.  Open a motorized corridor through the closure area from Couch Summit to Fleck Summit, and impose some new motorized restrictions in the headwaters area to minimize disturbance of wintering mountain goats and wolverine denning. Both the wildlife closure along FR 227 from Bowns Creek to the Sawtooth Forest Boundary, east of Featherville, and the wildlife closure at the Big Smoky elk feeding station, would remain in effect. This would have the potential to:

  • Increase motorized use in the corridor. This has the potential to increase disturbance of wintering elk in the corridor. However, because it appears that fewer elk are wintering in the area around Big Smoky Creek, motorized use may affect fewer elk than when the closure was first instituted. Monitoring of the effects of motorized use on wintering elk will continue.
  • Create equity between property owners and the general public.
  • Increase protection for mountain goats and wolverine in the Upper South Fork Boise River area.

These options were developed following a review of the history of the closure area, current data on wildlife presence and use, the currently permitted heli-ski operation and its requirements, the number of landowners and guests traveling through the closure area, and the complexity of administrating the private land owners permit system.

 

Under any of the options being considered, or any additional options developed during the planning and analysis of this project, it is my intention to make a non-significant amendment to the Sawtooth Forest Plan - Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) map. This change is necessary to accurately characterize the Recreation experiences that are available in the planning area for this project, and corrects an apparent error in the mapping that is currently displayed on the Winter ROS map. The area is currently mapped as `Primitive', which is described as, an area with very high probability of experiencing solitude; an unmodified natural environment; low interaction between users; little evidence of other people; access and travel is non-motorized on trails or cross-country; and no vegetative alterations. This description does not accurately reflect the current situation or the situation under any of the options for management described in this document. It is my intention to change the Winter ROS class in the project area to `Semi-Primitive Motorized', which is described as an area with Moderate opportunity for solitude, predominately natural appearing environment; low concentration of users, but encounters are expected; vegetative alterations are small and not obvious to a casual user.  This ROS class is a more accurate classification for the planning area, and is compatible with all of the options being considered. No other changes in ROS classes are anticipated with this project.

 

Your questions and comments regarding this proposal are an integral part of the planning process. They will help determine what issues and concerns need to be considered as we plan for this project. Your initial comments will be most helpful if received by March 22, 2010. 

 

All comments received in response to this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, will be considered part of the public record on this proposed action and will be available for public inspection.  

 

Comments on this proposal should be sent to: Fairfield Ranger District, Attn: Winter Travel Plan Revisions; P.O. Box 189, Fairfield, ID 83327; by FAX at (208) 764-3211; by e-mail in a format (pdf, txt, rtf, or document compatible with Microsoft Office applications) to: comments-intermtn-sawtooth-fairfield@fs.fed.us; or you may hand-deliver your comments to the Fairfield Ranger District Office in Fairfield, 102 1st Street East, during normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding federal holidays. (Please note, in order to continue to be included in this process, e-mail submissions must contain a deliverable mailing address). 

 

I encourage you to contact Ann Frost, Recreation Program Manager, at (208) 764-3478 with initial comments you may have regarding the project.  I anticipate additional opportunities for you to comment as we continue the planning process, so I would like your name, address and phone number to keep you informed as well as notify you of public meetings we host.


Thank you for your time and interest in the management of this special area.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mike Dettori

District Ranger

 

Following are suggested comments.

 

Date:

 

Mike Dettori

Fairfield Ranger District

Attn: Winter Travel Plan Revisions

PO Box 189

Fairfield, ID 83327

Comments-intermtn-sawtooth-fairfield@fs.fed.us

 

Dear Mr. Dettori:

 

I, my club, or my family would like to submit the following comments for your consideration in response to the scoping announcement dated February 19, 2010.  Add any personal information, for example how long you have been riding in the area and/or how important the area is to you.  If you have not ridden in the area before you can say I our we realize that the Fairfield Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest provides many opportunities for winter recreation. 

 

I/We strongly support option 3 of your scoping notice, opening a motorized corridor through what is currently a wildlife closure area from Couch Summit to Fleck Summit.

 

Open corridor:

  • As you note, fewer elk winter there than in the past and the closure no longer appears necessary.
  • An open corridor will likely do little to no harm to the elk, an animal which is readily habituated to the sound of motors. They quickly realize that motorized traffic confined to a narrow travel corridor poses no threat to their safety. In areas where snowmobiles are used to distribute feed, elk soon learn a positive association with snowmobiling.
  • Opening a travel corridor will create a welcome equity between the general public and private land owners.
  • Open the corridor all the way to Featherville which was possible at one time. This would open up thousands of acres for snowmobiling and access to many rural communities that are in dire need of additional visitors in the winter months.

Upper South Fork Boise River Area:

  • Mountain Goats & Lynx- I/We support measures necessary to protect mountain goat and lynx, but they should be based on sound biology and science rather than speculation. You should be able to demonstrate that any closures are truly necessary for the animal's well being and survival.
  • Wolverine-This is one of the lowest population density carnivores known. We/ I do not believe that there is any research, except speculation, that indicates any conflict between the species and winter recreation activities. Instead of closing those high elevation areas with potential for natal denning, why not educate snowmobilers so we can work with the Forest Service to be part of the solution rather than assuming we are the problem. 

I/we  support the opening of areas where past closures have been found unnecessary and hope other units will consider similar actions. Snowmobiling is a low impact activity enjoyed by thousands of Americans from across the nation. The national forests are indeed public lands and we/I believe that to the extent possible they should be open to public access. We find this action by the Fairfield District both refreshing and historic.

 

Thank you for considering my/our comments. We wish to be involved throughout the travel plan modification process.

 

Sincerely,