Boise State Conference Explores History and Future of Sawtooth National Recreation Area


The Sawtooth National Recreation Area turns 50 in August. A Boise State University lecture on Tuesday focused on the history of this iconic Idaho destination, formed by a bipartisan act of Congress, and the challenges it faces.

Kirk Flannigan is the NARS Ranger. He told attendees at the Andrus Center for Public Policy conference that overall visits to the recreation area increased by 85% from 2015 to 2020.

In 2020, leisure activities at the SNRA were particularly popular, with nearly 800,000 visits in summer and autumn. These figures were produced by a survey conducted every five years.

This increase has led some negative impacts on the landscape — like hundreds of campfires left unattended — and prompted the Forest Service to institute 10-day stay limits for campers and a bear-resistant food storage ordinance the following summer.

Flannigan said Tuesday he was particularly concerned about pressures on a few heavily trafficked trails and wild spots. This may cause the Forest Service to consider certain access limits.

“I know people are going to hate this, but we need to think about direct management practices, such as licensing or fees,” he said.

The NARS does not currently have entry permits or fees, but a user fee system was in place for several years beginning in the 1990s.

Other one-day conference panelists cited climate change, wildfires and development pressure as key challenges for the recreation area over the next 50 years.

Many of the discussions kept coming back to the two species of salmon, chinook and sockeye, which many speakers said are central to the region.

Daniel Stone, policy analyst for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, said when he thinks of NARS, he thinks of salmon.

“I always look to these iconic anadromous fish species that have created this ecosystem over the past millennia,” he said.

Stone and other panelists said the main threats to the fish are outside the recreation area boundaries: the lower four dams of the Snake River.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, was invited to the conference to speak about his “Law on leisure and not on red tape”. When asked if he supports breaking the Lower Snake River dams, he did not give a definitive answer.

“Either we build a coalition to find a balance, and we both protect our rivers and our fish and our commerce,” Wyden said, “or we decide we’re not going to take a balanced approach and you basically get a lawyer”. full employment program.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson announced his proposal to remove the dams in 2021.

State-level politics could also pose challenges for the jagged National Recreation Area, as evidenced by the Idaho House of Representatives close a resolution to celebrate the region’s 50th anniversary twice during the last legislative session.

Boise State University’s Andrus Center for Public Policy will release a policy white paper following the conference later this year.

Find journalist Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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