Frank Church Wilderness
A Campfire Vision: Establishing the Idaho Primitive Area
Dennis and Lynn Baird – Journal of the West (July 1987)
Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River knows few bad seasons, but to a hunter and outdoorsman, autumn is the best time of all. His love for hunting and for the wild heartland of Idaho brought Harry Shellworth to the shores of Big Creek, the Middle Fork’s major tributary, in October 1927. Shellworth, an executive in the Boise Payette Lumber Company and long time representative of what came to be known as the Weyerhaeuser “interests” in Idaho, was completing his twentieth trip into the Middle Fork country, stopping as usual at the cabin and homestead of “cougar” Dave Lewis on Big Creek. He had always brought friends along on these trips, many of them prominent Eastern businessmen. But this trip was a very special one, for joining Shellworth on the hunt were Idaho’s Governor H. Clarence Baldridge, Kellogg mining executive Stanley Easton, Boise photographer Ansgar Johnson (his photos of this trip appeared as far afield as the New York Times), District Forester Richard H. Rutledge of Ogden, and others. All were close friends of long duration and most were prominent Republicans as well. Writing three years later, Shellworth remembered night during the trip:
Many times during this trip the topic of our evening’s talk around the campfire was the question of whether or not this middle Fork Salmon River country, or at least that portion which is the natural winter range of game, should or should not become either a game preserve or a primitive area.
There is no record that the men reached any conclusions on this trip, nor is there specific information on the role played in the talks by District Forester Rutledge. It is clear, however, that a spark was lit, for both Rutledge and Governor Baldridge took action over the next two years to further the dream voiced at Dave Lewis’ camp. What motivated these men to act as they did? Was their plan for a vast Idaho Primitive Area merely an act in the larger drama of presentation battles in the 1920s? How could it be that men closely linked to industries needing free and open access to the public lands would become leaders in the cause of wilderness preservation? The answers for these questions must be sought in the unique circumstances of Idaho and its leading political figures as well as in an examination of the larger battles over wilderness preservation during the 1920s.
The late 1920s saw the laying of groundwork for the major conservation achievements of the Roosevelt years. This was especially true in the area of wilderness preservation. By 1931, thanks to the work of Bob Marshall, Aldo Leopold, Arthur Carhart, and others, the idea of forest primitive areas was well established and had a firm place in Forest Service rhetoric. The change in both agency and popular thought about wild places during the decade of the twenties from a utilitarian to a preservation perspective was immense and has naturally drawn the interest of historians of conservation. Several theories have been advanced by historians seeking some explanation for this change of thinking about wilderness. Some have argued that the Forest Service began to find wilderness and outdoor recreation more attractive during this period simply to counter the growing influence of the Park Service. Others, especially Forest Service officials, have argued that the agency was more altruistic in its motivation. A third theory looks more closely at the role played by the more powerful conservation actors of the 1920s, notably Leopold and Marshal, but also by Park Service and Forest Service officials such as Henry Graves, Arthur Carhart, and Steven Mather. Several men of more local influence, especially Western district foresters (renamed regional foresters in 1931), can be considered key players when individual areas are examined. In this third approach to conservation history, personality assumes a larger role than mere defense of agency turf.
As a consequence of this change of values, by July 1929, a legal vehicle existed through which the Forest Service could preserve wild lands. These were the L-20 regulations concerning primitive areas put into effect that year by the agency. Inventories taken as early as 1926 had identified many such places, mostly in the West, including three in Idaho. In their recreational planning process, district foresters had begun serious consideration of inventoried areas well in advance of completion of the L-20 regulations. In Idaho, interest both inside and outside the Forest Service quickly came to focus on the vast, undeveloped acreage along the Salmon River and south along its Middle Fork drainage.
This planning and study work by the district foresters also received impetus in 1927 and 1928 from the work of the influential National Conference on Out-door Recreation. With the Secretary of War as chairman, this large conference was called by President Coolidge and met in Washington in 1924 and 1926. Its final work called for the publication not only of its own proceedings but also for later publication of a series of studies to be done on various outdoor recreation topics. One such study was authored by a joint committee of the American Forestry Association and the National Park Association. This committee published its report in 1928, entitled “Recreation Resources of Federal Lands.”
This study found over 12 million acres (21 sites in all) suitable for some form of wilderness preservation. In Idaho, these were the Selway (1 million acres), the Middle Fork (1.25 million acres), and the Owyhee (1 million acres). The report spoke warmly of places “free of the ubiquitous motor . . . where it is still possible to enjoy outdoor life under the primitive conditions of the wilderness,” and added that “land planning for this unique phase of outdoor recreation is of vital importance but is in danger of irreparable neglect.” The joint committee report concluded by asking for “formal delimitation by proclamation of the Secretary of Agriculture of wilderness areas within the national forests and suppression of the exploitation of social uses or speculative economic uses inimical to the enjoyment of simple wilderness sports.”
Because the National Conference on Outdoor Recreation had been attended by virtually every leading recreation professional and many of the prominent citizens concerned with the outdoors, these recommendations, along with the many others made, were clearly of serious import to agency officials in the field. District foresters like R. H. Rutledge were well aware of the pressures generated by these interests. The response of these high-level Forest Service administrators varied greatly around the country, but Rutledge, district forester in Boise, was clearly sympathetic to the call to preserve these wild places.
He may have had his interest in the Middle Fork piqued by the work of a little-known figure in Idaho history, Frederick G. Ransom of Clarkston, Washington. From 1910 to 1930, Ransom, a chemistry graduate of Stanford University, had operated a large orchard in Clarkston and spent many summer hours along the Middle Fork. He also had spent much of that time corresponding with the Forest Service and political figures around the country, agitating for the preservation of what he hoped would be called Tukuarika Primitive Area, named for the Shoshonean Indians (also called Sheepeaters during the brief war of the same name) who once inhabited much of the Middle Fork drainage. Ransom’s correspondence with Rut-ledge in 1931 makes it clear that he had been working to influence the Forest Service for some time to establish the Tukuarika Primitive Area. Ransom encountered Robert Bailey for the first time in the Salmon River canyon in 1904 and made a considerable impression on that chronicler of the Salmon River. In fact, in his book River of No Return (1947), Bailey gives probably accurate credit to Ransom for originating the idea of preservation for the Middle Fork. Ransom lost his orchard at the start of the Depression, moved briefly to Vancouver, Washington, sought employment with the Forest Service in helping manage the new primitive area, and eventually moved East, vanishing from the arena of Idaho conservation battles. In a letter now lost, he wrote Bailey summarizing his work:
I would say that I, some years ago, conceived the idea of saving a part of this central Idaho for the propagation of its many fine species of wild life, and wrote widely presenting my idea to the various governmental departments which I thought might be interested. Practically all of the replies were discouraging, but seemingly my seed did not fall entirely on infertile ground.
Ransom also credited Gen. W. C. Brown of Colorado, a veteran of the Sheepeater War, and Senator William Borah, with later having advanced the cause of the Middle Fork, but they apparently had only very minor roles in the matter.
Instead, one must look more closely at the work and background of Intermountain District Forester Richard H. Rutledge and his long association with Idaho and its politicians. Rutledge, an Idaho native, had served the Forest Service for years in various capacities, including work as supervisor of two national forests in the state. As is the case today, this work brought him into close contact with the state’s more influential figures, including Governor Baldridge and lumber executive Harry Shellworth. Rutledge’s personal expertise was grazing management, and he enjoyed an exceptionally long tenure as district and then, regional, forester serving in Ogden from 1920 to 1938. He also was well known outside of Idaho and forestry circles and was picked in 1939 to head the Grazing Service, one of the predecessor agencies of the Bureau of Land Management. In that role he figured prominently in Interior Secretary Harold Ickes’ battles to move the Forest Service into the Interior Department. Rutledge was a man of considerable influence who knew well and clearly loved the Middle Fork country. His support for the primitive area, gained after the 1927 trip, was to prove essential. In addition to his respect for the natural values of the Middle Fork, Rutledge also may have had a hidden agenda: the removal of private lands from within the area and some limitation on homesteading rights in the proposed primitive area. If so, he failed to resolve either question. Concerns continue today over the impact of management of private lands within what is now the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, distinctly coloring the official management plan for the 2.3 million-acre wilderness.
Harry Shellworth, with whom Rutledge enjoyed the Middle Fork country on many occasions, was born in Texas in 1877 and, as a child, moved to Idaho where his father became a prominent merchant. As a young man, he fought in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and traveled for several years in the Orient. After his marriage in 1905, he settled in Idaho again and his first job was cruising timber for what his family always called the “Weyerhaeuser interests.” His initial work took him into almost all of the forested regions of southern Idaho and was on behalf of the Barber Lumber Company which became the Boise-Payette Company, a direct predecessor of the current Boise Cascade Corporation. He served the Weyerhaeuser “interests” in many ways: preparing for the inevitable movement of the timber industry from the upper Midwest to the Northwest, as a land agent, and, very quickly, as an influential, behind-the-scenes man in Idaho Republican party politics. In addition, he acted as a guide, arranger, and general stage manager for trips into the Middle Fork and Big Creek which were arranged for Weyerhaeuser “interests” and for many prominent Eastern businessmen. He also served as a friend and business agent on the “outside” for back country characters like “Cougar” Dave Lewis. Shellworth played a direct role in the work of John and Phil Weyerhaeuser as they sought timberland and mill sites along north Idaho’s Clearwater River in 1926:
Harry Shellworth, still in the employ of the Boise Payette Company, has been assisting at John’s request in the effort to get the Idaho legislature to approve construction of a darn at Lewiston for power and log storage Shellworth inquired about the possibility of employment in the Clearwater organization.
His son, Eugene Shellworth, clearly remembers his first boyhood trip down Big Creek in 1924 and recalls that even then, his father talked of protecting the natural values of the area. His acquaintances on these early trips were his father’s good friends, Bob Lambert and Otto Jones. Lambert later became a defender of what is now the Craters of the Moon National Monument, and Jones was the first director of what Idaho voters in the mid-I930s established by initiative as the Idaho Fish and Game Department. Eugene learned much from these three, and remembers that:
It was the idea generated by these three people, entirely new concept, even to the name that they gave their dream of “Primitive Area.” It was their baby they brought to full life on Idaho’s streets in the late twenties. . .”
Three amazing bits of coincidence in the 1927-1928 period saw the transformation of this “dream” into the first phase of reality: the trip down Big Creek by influential Idahoans and Forest Service officials, the publication of the joint committee report on national forest recreation resources, and, finally, the internal clarification of Forest Service policy about wilderness. The final impetus came in a letter to Idaho Senator William Borah in late 1929, sent by Augustine Davis, a wealthy southern businessman just returned from a fall hunting trip into the Middle Fork. Davis asked the Senator what was being done to protect the country, and Borah passed the letter along to R. E. Shepherd, then president of the Idaho Chamber of Commerce. In April 1930, Shepherd wrote his friend Harry Shellworth, asking for advice on how to answer Davis.
Shellworth’s reply, four pages long, is a masterpiece of ambiguity in which he ruminated on the need to build roads into the area for fire protection, on the possible mineral values of the Middle Fork country, and on his own desire to “preserve this wonderful game land.” He summarized his feelings:
I have, in the past, been a very rabid proponent of the wilderness area idea for this particular area —now I am not so sure that it was not a glorified selfishness — a wish to keep this game land for the few who by reason of either wealth or, as in my case, fortunate opportunity, could enjoy it. I hope it may be protected and that many more people, many many more citizens of Idaho and our friends may enjoy it. With intelligent administration and proper laws I believe this can be accomplished.
Shellworth also sent along a memo that he had just received from his friend Rutledge in Ogden, which included the information that a study of a possible primitive area was in fact already underway and specu-
lated on how such a place should be managed. Shellworth concluded by suggesting to the Chamber of Commerce head that a committee of foresters, scientists, sportsmen, and politicians should be assembled to consider the primitive area and its boundaries. Copies of Shellworth’s correspondence with Shepherd also were sent to several state senators, Forest Service officials, and to state Game Warden R. E. Thomas. The replies to this effort by Shellworth were almost uniformly in support of the primitive area idea and of the plan to have a governor’s conference on the topic.
There was considerable talk around Idaho that summer about the primitive area. Rutledge collected reports on the area from his several forest supervisors, and on 17 November 1930, the regional forester took them to Boise to show the reports to Governor Baldridge. The governor apparently was enthusiastic, because he asked for a summary report on the area and promised to call a conference on its fate.
Rutledge kept himself busy in the interim. On 20 November he wrote his forest supervisors in the Idaho, Challis, Salmon, and Payette National Forests asking that they drum up local support for the primitive area, suggesting that each supervisor “secure from the game associations in his territory, an endorsement of the primitive area idea without going into any details as to boundaries. This it was hoped, would pave the way for the support of their representatives. . . .”
In a remarkable tribute to both Forest Service and Post Office efficiency, these solicited testimonials, in two cases typed on Forest Service watermarked paper, quickly (by 22 November, for one of them) poured into Rutledge’s office, with copies going to Governor Baldridge as well. Prominent Loon Creek (a Middle Fork tributary northwest of Stanley) outfitter and rancher J. P. Boyle also wrote in support of the idea. The available records, in fact, reveal no opposition at all during this stage of the discussions about the primitive area, but it is also very clear that regional forester Rutledge was both shrewd and careful in whom he picked to lobby on the subject, a skill that served him well in his later career in the Interior Department.
By late November 1930, the Forest Service was able to supply Govenor Baldridge with a draft proposal and map for the primitive area, which would cover about one million acres, including highly mineralized Thunder Mountain on the west side. The proposal went out of its way to ensure that language protecting miners and grazers was included. The issue of buying out agricultural private landholders was again raised. On 1 December, Governor Baldridge officially named Shellworth head of the committee and set a meeting date for 20 December. Eleven men were named to the committee, which was to meet in the caucus room of the Idaho House of Representatives.
Of the ten others named to the committee, almost all were Republicans (as was the Governor) and several had personal knowledge of the proposed primitive area. Two were state representatives: Cowles Andrus, a Challis rancher, and Robert Coulter, a farmer from Cascade. There were state senators: E. G. Van Hoesen, a prominent horticulturalist from Mesa; W. B. Mitchell, the president of Parma’s cooperative creamery; and Roscoe Rich, of Burley. Rich was an influential wool grower (he later served as president of the National Woolgrowers’ Association) and bank officer and had long been active in Republican politics. His family is still in the livestock business in eastern Idaho. The committee included other friends of Shellworth: Stanley Easton, the Bunker Hill executive from Kellogg; R. E. Thomas, state Game Warden; and R. E. Shepherd, of Jerome, then president of the Idaho Chamber of Commerce. C. M. Hatch, a Victor store owner, and S. C. Scribner, then supervisor of the Payette National Forest, completed the committee. Several of these names had come from Rutledge, but the genesis of the others on the list is unknown.
In addition to their Republican inclination, many had been Big Creek hunting trip participants. It is also clear that, collectively, this group had the political influence to put into effect any idea that they were able to approve. Governor Baldridge obviously knew what he was doing in selecting these particular men.
The governor himself opened the meeting, reminding members at some length about his own trip into the Middle Fork in 1927. According to the minutes of the committee, the governor hoped that no roads would be built into the area and that private lands within the area could be purchased. He did not foresee the primitive area as existing for all time and, like others, asked that nothing be done to preclude mining in the area. After the governor left, the committee took up the draft report, written for Regional Forester Rutledge. During the discussions, Coulter and Andrus raised concerns over dam construction and mining access. Hatch and Van Hoesen, both from towns far from the Middle Fork, thought the idea of a primitive area a good one. Some of the strongest support for the idea came from dairyman Mitchell, who spoke on the value of the primitive area in maintaining high-quality water for irrigation.
After all this discussion, Regional Forester Rutledge was asked to offer his opinion. He gave what was, for the time, an amazing talk on the economic value of wild lands and again raised his hopes of acquiring the patented private lands within the area. That done, a resolutions committee was named and returned its report by late afternoon. By unanimous vote, the governor’s committee recommended approval of the primitive area concept and asked Rutledge to submit his report on the area to his supervisor, Chief Forester R. Y. Stuart in Washington. On that note, the committee adjourned, never to meet again. Rutledge immediately went to work, joining his Idaho National Forest Supervisor Scribner in writing a final report for the chief forester.
A week later, the story of the committee’s work broke in the Boise press, in a full-page story complete with a rough map. Public reaction, at least as seen in the newspapers, was mixed, with land owners inside the primitive area boundary and miners being the most concerned. Idaho Inspector of Mines Stuart Campbell voiced his concerns over possible harm to miners from the proposal, not from the lack of access but from the lack of federally funded access. As he said, the “proposal forces any miner or prospector to build roads in this region without state or federal aid.” Others called the primitive area “a playground for the few,” an “intruding ghoul” halting just and necessary development, and a block in the development of Idaho for “the poor man.” The most substantive criticism came from Merle Wallace, a resident of the small mountain town of Warren, who was a cattle rancher along Big Creek and a former employee of the Idaho National Forest. Wallace claimed that the area was heavily inhabited and quite profitable for ranching, and warned that the primitive area designation was the first step “looking to the total abolishment of grazing rights of owners of patented lands.” Idaho National Forest Supervisor Scribner answered Wallace in the same paper a few days later, indicating that Wallace had simply misunderstood the rule governing the management of the area.
Most of these newspaper stories were forwarded to Forester Stuart by Rutledge along with two more letters from sportsmen’s clubs endorsing the idea. The Idaho State Chamber of Commerce sent Senator Borah a letter on 21 January 1931, cautiously endorsing the primitive area but asking for a federal survey of the mineral resources of the area, a plea which was quickly rejected and was not actually completed until the late 1970s.
By 23 January 1931, Regional Forester Rutledge had completed transmission of all the primitive area documents to Chief Forester Stuart in Washington. On 2 February, Stuart wrote Rutledge, tentatively approving the new primitive area, which would be the largest by far in the new system established under the L-20 regulations. Stuart complimented the Intermountain Region on the high quality of its primitive area study report. Stuart. however, wondered aloud about the permanent appearance of the proposal and repeated some Pinchot talk about the “largest beneficial return to the largest number of people.” He noted that in the future, the “Forest Service will feel free to modify the plan of management and use” should demands and circumstances change. In an amazing bit of foresight, Stuart also asked Rutledge if the region’s plan to promote the area might “nullify the purpose of the present designation” by attracting too many people, some of whom might demand roads and resorts in the primitive area.
Rutledge responded with a long defense of his promotion plans but suggested weakening the language dealing with the length and tenure of the primitive area designation. With these modifications, Stuart signed the final Idaho Primitive Area Report on 17 March 1931. The report is both detailed and extraordinarily well written. Its basic conclusion is that the facts of the report make it “clearly evident that the recreational value of the area is at present, and will continue to be, dominant.” The goal in establishing the area was clearly identified:
To make it possible for people to detach themselves, at least temporarily, from the strains and turmoil of modern existence, and to revert to simple types of existence in conditions of relatively unmodified nature [and] to afford unique opportunities for physical, mental, and spiritual recreation and regeneration.
The existing resources of the primitive area are described in detail in the report, which also offers a good history of the area. The report also included some suggestions on management of the area, although much of that detail came ultimately from the L-20 regulations. In a hint at battles to come, the report cautioned about the danger of extensive airplane landings in the primitive area, concluding that “if auto travel is not to be condoned, surely entrance by air should also be discouraged.” Finally, the report again asked that funds be provided for the purchase, on a willing-seller basis, of private lands from within the area. The total acreage was 1,087,744 acres, a number that was augmented in June 1937 by the addition of 145,000 acres in the Indian Creek and Pistol Creek drainages, an enlargement made mostly for hunting and wildlife purposes. Though the Forest Service ultimately established both the Selway-Bitterroot and the Sawtooth Primitive Areas in Idaho. this one, centered on the Middle Fork, perhaps by virtue of its size and precedence quickly came known as “the Primitive Area,” a name by which it is called by some even today, years after its transformation into the much larger Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness.
The citizens and officials involved in establishing the primitive area never argued much over the boundaries of the area, had few disagreements over their goals for the designation, and didn’t even battle much over the likely management of the area. The hidden agenda of the Forest Service, if indeed there was one, fairly quickly gave away to the obvious love for the primitive area. The threatening head of the National Park Service was nowhere in evidence during these discussions and, except for the Craters of the Moon National Monument, this sister agency was not to be seen much in Idaho until the first days of battle over the Sawtooths in the early 1970s. Citizens and Forest Service officials involved in the designation of the Idaho Primitive Area were clearly cognizant of the battles over wilderness going on elsewhere in the country during the same time period, but these national concerns seem to have been more of a fortuitous coincidence rather than a major stimulus to the work of wilderness preservation in Idaho. In that light, the L-20 regulations were not a beacon for these men in Idaho but simply a vehicle for work already underway.
Their work, and ultimately their success, in establishing the Idaho Primitive Area is all the more remarkable in the light of economic conditions of Idaho in 1930. At that time there were but 440,000 people in the state with a per capita income $200 below the national average of $705, and nearly half of the state’s total employment was tied in some way to the land. Under those conditions, the preservation of the forest wild lands must have been a low priority indeed.
Once the Forest Service was established, the rest of the decade of the 1930s saw serious efforts by the Service to clarify its management of the Idaho and other primitive areas. Chief Forester Stuart sought to clarify in his own mind what was intended and the Forest Service, in its 1933 National Plan for American Forestry, tried to specify terms for wild places (“superlative areas,” “primeval areas,” and “wilderness areas”) and to determine exactly what each meant on the ground. Just before his death in 1939, Bob Marshall was able to draft what became the U Regulations for managing wilderness areas. These were approved by Chief Forester Silcox and were to guide the management of the wilderness and primitive areas (the exact designation was changed several times) until debate began on the Wilderness Bill in the 1950s and 1960s.
Harry Shellworth seems to have played no part in the small enlargement of the Idaho Primitive Area in 1937, but continued his trips into the area up to the start of the Second World War. He also continued his work in Idaho on behalf of the Weyerhaeuser “interests” and kept his close ties with Rutledge during their mutual CCC work. Rutledge did play a big role in the enlargement of the Idaho Primitive Area in 1937, shortly before leaving the Forest Service for the Interior Department. In Washington, he quickly became an active participant in the long and on-going battles between the Interior and Agriculture Departments over the control of the resource management agencies.
The decade of the 1930s also saw the start of trips into the new primitive area by the man who might well be considered the successor of Harry Shellworth – Ted Trueblood, an outdoorsman and writer who ultimately settled in Nampa, Idaho. Writing for Outdoor Life. Trueblood quickly involved himself in most Idaho conservation battles. It was his vision of a greatly enlarged Idaho Primitive Area, to be named the River of No Return Wilderness after the work on the upper Salmon River of Lewis and Clark, that prepared the way for the second great struggle over the fate of central Idaho. His is a story yet to be told.
Shellworth October 1928 Trip
Harry Shellworth might seem an unlikely advocate for the cause of wilderness preservation. But the long effort to conserve Idaho’s wildlands crosses political party and ideological lines. An official with the Boise-Payette Lumber Company (a predecessor of Boise Cascade), Shellworth oversaw Weyerhaeuser logging interests in Idaho. But he also loved to hunt and camp, and he keenly appreciated the need to preserve some of Idaho’s pristine landscape for future generations. In 1928 he invited some important friends on a camping trip into central Idaho—including Governor Clarence Baldridge, Boise attorney Jess Hawley, and Kellogg mining executive Stanley Easton. Shellworth’s mission: To convince these powerful Idahoans that the land around the Middle Fork of the Salmon should be preserved.
In 1930, Baldridge—converted to the cause—appointed Shellworth to head a Governor’s Committee to explore Primitive Area designation for that breathtaking landscape. In 1931, the U.S. Forest Service established the Idaho Primitive Area. At 1.1 million acres, it was one of the earliest and largest Primitive Areas in the nation.
Idaho photographer Ansgar Johnson Sr. accompanied the party as the official photographer of the trip.
Breakfast in Camp
Shellworth and Baldridge beat Hawley to breakfast – once.
photographer Ansgar Johnson Sr
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Valley County, Idaho
Copyright Idaho State Historical Society
source: Idaho State Archives
Hawley, Shellworth, & Balddridge always first to “come and get it” call.
photographer Ansgar Johnson Sr
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, Valley County, Idaho
Copyright Idaho State Historical Society
source: Idaho State Archives
more photos: Harry Shellworth Album Idaho State Historical Society
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Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness History
In 1931, 1,090,000 acres in Central Idaho were declared by the U.S. Forest Service as The Idaho Primitive Area. In 1963, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness was split into three parts: The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive area, and the Magruder Corridor-the land between the two areas.
Frank Church was the Senate floor sponsor for the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protected 9 million acres of United States land as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1968, he introduced the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which included the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, so that rivers “shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
Church’s environmental legislation culminated in 1980 with the passage of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act. The act created the River of No Return Wilderness by combining the Idaho Primitive Area, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive Area, and a portion of the Magruder Corridor. The Act also added 125 miles of the Salmon River to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. President Carter had taken his family on a three-day float trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in August 1978, accompanied by Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, the former (and future) Idaho governor. The administration forwarded a central Idaho wilderness proposal to Congress later that year and Carter signed the final act on July 23, 1980.
… In January 1984, Congress honored Senator Church, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, by renaming the area The Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. Idaho Senator Jim McClure introduced the measure in the Senate in late February, and President Reagan signed the act on March 14, less than four weeks before Church’s death on April 7 at age 59.
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Tales from the Last of the Big Creek Rangers
Payette National Forest, Idaho
by Earl Dodds (August 2013)
Earl Dodds was one of the last of the “on the ground” district rangers in the U.S. Forest Service. He spent more than twenty-five years as the ranger on the Big Creek District of the Payette National Forest, located in what is now the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho. Twenty-five years on one district is unthinkable in today’s Service, and further setting him apart is the fact that he was the one and only ranger to preside over the expanded Big Creek District.
… When I was promoted to the position of ranger on the old Chamberlain District in June of 1957, most of the backcountry on the eastern part of the Payette National Forest was classified as the Idaho Primitive Area. Forest Service management direction for the Primitive Area centered upon keeping the area wild, and free of road building and logging, but with a heavy emphasis on fire control. At that time, fire control played the major role in the management of all the national forests in the West. This emphasis had its origin in the big fires of the 1910 season that burned three million acres of prime timberlands in northern Idaho and western Montana and killed 87 people. The Forest Service was going all out to prevent anything like that from ever happening again.
Consequently, the backcountry districts on the Payette National Forest were primarily firefighting outfits. The Forest Service had small initial attack fire crews based at Chamberlain, Cold Meadows and Big Creek, a system of fire lookouts, and miles and miles of trails and telephone lines to tie everything together for communication and access purposes. There were also three airfields on the Payette National Forest, within the Idaho Primitive Area, that were originally constructed and maintained for fire control purposes.
continued (free e-book)
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Telephone “Booth” in the Frank Church Wilderness
U.S. Forest Service – Payette National Forest
Telephones in the wilderness – what? Learn about the Coyette Creek phone booth.
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Big Creek Ranger Station Switchboard
page updated September 30, 2020