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Backcountry skiers have some concerns over SNRA outfitters plan

Tim Hagen
Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday is the last day to comment on a new plan for managing outfitter and guiding permits in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The Forest Service said the permit system for twenty-one companies that guide activities like backcountry skiing, hunting and snowmobiling has been inconsistent over the last decade.

The agency said its new proposed plan aims to strike a balance between growing recreational demand and protections for wildlife.

The proposal has drawn concern from some skiers and other recreators who say it will greatly limit the number of people who can access backcountry huts and yurts.

“Having a large percentage of the winter season in which the public cannot book those huts is not a great form of winter wilderness management," said Paddy McIlvoy, the board president of the Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance.

The Alliance prefers the Forest Service's "Alternative B" approach because it says that option comes closer to meeting public demand, but McIlvoy said the group would prefer a system that allows full booking of the huts.

The Blaine County Commissioners sent a comment to the SNRA Tuesday asking it to take these concerns into account. The commissioners said permitting the huts for the entire winter could help mitigate crowding in day-use areas.

The Forest Service said the proposed plan expands the total number of days people can access all guided recreation in the SNRA, especially during the winter months.

But it's also trying to crack down on a long-standing system in which outfitters were often allowed to exceed their designated "use days" with additional temporary permits. Hut rentals and guided snowmobiling outings were among the activities going over the allotted days to the greatest extent due to increases in demand.

Guided recreation plays an important role in the SNRA, according to the Forest Service, and accounts for a small percentage of total recreation. Still, the agency said those activities have the ability to affect species of concern like wolverines.

The final decision on the plan could be published early next year.

Comments submitted by Aug. 31 can be sent to Susan James, SNRA Recreation Program Manager, at susan.james@usda.gov.

Correction: This story initially said wolverines are endangered. The species is currently being considered for Endangered Species Act protections.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.