Salmon River outfitters vow to appeal Forest Service ruling

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Owners vow to fight ruling to break wilderness camps.

SALMON, Idaho (AP) - Three Salmon River outfitters plan to appeal a decision by the Forest Service requiring them to remove buildings from "camps" they operate on a stretch of river that runs through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
A year ago, a federal judge in Missoula, Mont., ruled that the outfitters' lodges were illegal and only tent camps were allowed under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the 1980 Central Idaho Wilderness Act.

Outfitters, however, say the judge ruled in error.

"We're not going to just roll over," said Gail Watt, owner of White Water West, a lodge complex with six log-facade buildings totaling 3,500 square feet at Smith Gulch. "We're not going to give it up without a fight."

The lodges at Arctic Creek, Smith Gulch and Stub Creek are located on the upper part of an 80-mile stretch of the Salmon River that winds through the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

The "camps" existed before the Central Idaho Wilderness Act was passed in 1980. They have operated since the 1930s through special use permits issued by the Forest Service.

The three outfitters and those who helped Sen. Frank Church draft the wilderness legislation, say Church, who is not alive to clarify his intent, meant for the river camps to stay.

But Wilderness Watch, led by retired Forest Service employee and wilderness purist Bill Worf, said two regional foresters from "both sides of the Salmon River" agreed in writing in 1978 that the hunting camps could only be temporary.

Worf said the existing structures were built illegally while "the district ranger looked the other way."

"Senator Church was a pretty smart guy," said Worf. "I talked to Senator Church and he knew exactly what the permits were and what I heard him say was the 'hunting camps' could stay - not the resorts or lodges they have down there now."

The lodges serve a variety of guests, including the elderly, the handicapped and those who don't want to rough it on the river. They are also used for fall steelhead fishing, hunting and for early spring rafting trips.

Wayne Johnson, owner of Barker-Ewing, a Jackson-based river company, said he uses the lodges for several of his trips, especially those aimed at serving the elderly.

If Stub Creek, Arctic Creek and Smith Gulch are torn out, it will be 40 miles from the put-in at Corn Creek to the next lodge on the Salmon River, he said.
 

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