New Logjam on the Middle Fork
(Originally reported in RiverWire)
Just when you thought it was safe to get back on the river….
After a logjam at Pistol Creek last year caused gridlock for rafters on Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River (forcing forest service personnel to blast a way through), Mother Nature has wreaked havoc on rafters again at the same spot.
Last year’s logjam at Pistol Creek has rematerialized, with the addition of a riverwide strainer just above Pistol Creek at Lake Creek.
“What was once river left and center was almost high and dry when we came upon it at 3.75 feet on April 28 this year,” says one private rafter who discovered the logjam on one of the first Middle Fork trips of the year. “Almost all of the flow skirts hard to the right, slams into the right bank and continues to drop trees into the channel. As water levels rise, the left and center might become navigable, but all of the wood in Pistol is still waiting to arrive once the water rises.”
Unlike last year, the US Forest Service says it has no plans to blast apart the logjam. Last July a logjam built up overnight with 200 unsuspecting rafters upstream, making it a difficult task to inform boaters of the hazard. Some private boaters simply portaged the obstruction, while one outfitter hired pack animals to move equipment and people around. USFS wilderness workers used dynamite to blow up the logjam within a few days.
This year’s logjam consists of fewer logs but still blocks the river completely. Lake Creek’s drainage area, ravaged by fires in previous years and littered with dead trees, flooded and pushed the logs and a debris pile into the river overnight. The problem was repeated and compounded this spring when a live tree fell across the river just below Lake Creek (mile 21.5). The channel has changed with new bars and newly exposed rocks. Higher water will likely change it again. Early-season paddlers are lining Lake Creek and portaging Pistol Creek (mile 22.7), or portaging both.
The USFS recently released a statement saying, “It is the responsibility of every boater to be aware of conditions on the rivers and take appropriate precautions including being heads-up and scouting the rivers. It may mean portaging or lining your boats around hazards. The Salmon-Challis National Forest will not be clearing obstacles from the rivers to assure passage for boaters.”
“Self-guided river runners could have an unprecedented wilderness experience this year” adds Jo Johnson of River Runners for Wilderness. “Many commercial outfitters are unlikely to march their passengers and equipment around the obstacles if the USFS stands by the commitment to let wilderness be wild.”
Indian Creek at mile 25.2 is an alternate launch site where trips can enter below the problem area via plane shuttle and it is expected that at least some commercial outfitters will use this option.
On August 3, 2006, Montana’s Wilderness Watch sent a letter to the USFS requesting a formal review of the agency’s response to last year’s dynamiting incident. The Middle Fork is a designated Wild and Scenic River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. “The decision to blow up the logjam raises important questions about Wilderness and the Forest Service’s stewardship,” the letter states. “There is little doubt that other natural events of similar or greater magnitude will occur in designated Wilderness in the years ahead, and that managers will be confronted with these challenges many times. For that reason, the response to this event serves as an important learning opportunity for present and future managers, as well as for the general public.”
Pictures of the new logjams can be seen at: http://restwhenyoudie.com/(21)april_27th_2007.htm