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Horsemen call wilderness trails a disaster

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:12 am

The Back Country Horsemen of Idaho are seeking to have one of their favorite destinations declared a disaster area.

Fed up over the lack of trail clearing and maintenance in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, the group is behind House Joint Memorial No. 1 which would declare the 2.3 million acre wilderness  a natural resource disaster area.

They say the memorial is an attempt to point much needed attention at a problem that too few Idahoans know about. It's not about getting more money for trails at a time when budgets are tight. Rather, they contend, its about U.S. Forest Service making trail work a priority.

"Our play isn't asking for more money from Congress. Our play is saying hey Forest Service Chief and (Department of Agriculture) Secretary you need to take a closer look at your obligations and make certain you are spreading the available resources to the right places," said John Burns of Carmen.

The campaign is striking in part because the group is normally an ally of the Forest Service. The Horsemen routinely work with the agency in a volunteer capacity to preform trail clearing and maintenance.It's also striking because they are willing to blacken the eye of one of their favorite destinations, the sprawling wild country in the heart of Idaho, with a negative connotation.

That negativity is too much for environmental groups like the Wilderness Society to stomach.The group shares the BCH concern over trails but won't go along with verbally trashing the Frank.

"I think it's one thing to ask for money for trails and another thing to declare a disaster area which I think in the long run is a lot more detrimental to the cause," said Craig Gehrke, of the Wilderness Society at Boise.

You can read further about the issue in today's Tribune (subscription required) and the role wild fires play in the trail maintenance problem.

A Sunday feature story I wrote last November about the trail maintenance problem in places like the Frank and The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area is available here.   (this one is free)

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  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • ogram2 posted at 1:53 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    ogram2 Posts: 1

    There are currently close to 1000 of miles of trail maintained in this wilderness annually. Need more?

  • newsjunkie posted at 8:45 am on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    newsjunkie Posts: 21806

    So they can form a club, and go maintain the trails themselves...if it's that important to them....

  • snowbound posted at 9:31 am on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    snowbound Posts: 64

    One of the problems is the motorized users do maintain a lot of the trails they ride on within the national forest. And because horses don't always mix well with ATV's and such it would be nice that the millions of acres that area completely sealed of to motorized use were maintained so the hikers, backpackers and horse guys can enjoy their sport in an area that doesn't interfer with the motorized group. I have found that the hikers, backpackers and horse guys like to be on the trails that the motorized groups maintain because they are MAINTAINED and the next thing you know they want these areas shut down for there own personal use/agenda. I really believe to many people sit in their living rooms and type on the computer rather than getting outside and enjoying our wonderful wilderness areas and national forest. Put the crimials to work clearing trail! they can work off their room and board.

  • ralph posted at 10:37 am on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    ralph Posts: 726

    Your worries may soon be over, folks. When the national forests are turned over to the State of Idaho they will be divided up and privatized. Then the new owners will decide what trails if, any, will be maintained, what types of users, if any, will be allowed to use them, and last but not at all least, what they will pay to use them.

    Down with liberal, socialist forests! Suppport conservative privatized forests!

  • PedalPowered posted at 1:06 pm on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    PedalPowered Posts: 1

    With shrinking budgets and the aging volunteer Backcountry Horsemen workforce, our trail maintenance challenges on public ground will only grow in the coming years. This reality certainly begs the question – is the big ‘W’ the best choice for permanently protecting our public wildscapes in a socially responsible manner? These trail challenges exist because the fallen trees have to be cut out in a primitive manner – a crosscut saw. If the landscape, or trail corridor, was protected with a permanent Congressional companion designation that allowed a chainsaw (and a bicycle) – there wouldn’t be a backlog of trail work – and solitude would continue as it has for the millennium. By the time these presently downed trees get cut out by hand, the public INVESTMENT in the trail treads is long gone – requiring an expensive rebuild of the actual trail. The clock is ticking on even the future existence of these trails – potentially they could be gone forever.

    Bicyclists make great partners in caring for our backcountry trail systems. The youth is pro-actively engaged in the outdoors, the trails are safer for all users, our communities are healthier and the public (w)ilderness resource is visited and valued. Why isn’t this a win / win for everyone?

    It’s a pity that the Wilderness-or-nothing dialog stagnates us in our tracks.


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