Maintain wildness of Great Burn
Guest column

Maintain wildness of Great Burn

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Nearly 50 years ago, I fell in love with an enchanted land of cedar cathedrals, cliffs pearled with mountain goats, and streams rich with red-throat-slashed cutthroat trout.

The streams in the Great Burn are still as clean and cold as they were then, the air is still as fresh, and the quiet still as quiet. That’s due in large measure to the area’s management as a recommended wilderness where motorized or mechanized vehicles have no place.

The Great Burn lies along the Montana-Idaho state line. About two-thirds of the recommended wilderness is in Idaho and one-third in Montana. Access is easier from the Montana side, where many hiking and horseback trips start at Hoodoo Pass west of Superior, or at the Clearwater Crossing or Schley Trailheads west of Alberton.

Wolverines, wolves, moose, elk, Canada lynx, fishers and mountain goats make their home in the Great Burn. Mountain goats cling to steep slopes throughout the year. During the winter, they have a hard time finding enough to eat, particularly the nannies, which may be pregnant. While deep snows are a challenge for mountain goats, late snowpack is critical for female wolverines, which keep kits in their snow-cave dens until May. Both wolverines and mountain goats are vulnerable to disturbance, which is limited by the present prohibition against motorized or mechanized vehicles.

Relentless unregulated shooting, trapping and poisoning eliminated grizzlies from most of the West, including the Great Burn, but grizzlies have begun finding their way back to the Great Burn from the Selkirks and the Cabinet-Yaak. As yet, there’s no solid evidence that grizzlies have come to the Great Burn to stay. Maintaining the Great Burn’s present boundaries and motorized vehicle restrictions helps ensure that the Great Burn will continue serving as a corridor for grizzly recovery.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest’s revised management plan could shrink the boundaries of the Great Burn or lift the prohibitions against motorized or mechanized travel. Neither change is acceptable.

You can help keep the quiet and the wildlife in the Great Burn by submitting your comments in support of maintaining the existing boundaries of the Great Burn (Hoodoo) Recommended Wilderness and of maintaining existing prohibitions against motorized or mechanized travel.

Comments are due by April 20 at http://bit.ly/NezClearFPRComments.

Dale Harris retired in 2019 after serving four decades as executive director of the Great Burn Conservation Alliance (formerly the Great Burn Study Group). He helped develop the Clearwater Basin Collaborative in Idaho and served as its co-chair for a decade. He also was a founding member and co-leader of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee.

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