I consider myself a Wilderness enthusiast. I have spent the past four summers working on Wilderness trail crews for the Forest Service, most recently for the Bitterroot National Forest. I am no friend or advocate to motorized or mechanized equipment in our Wilderness, but I find Gary Macfarlane and Friends of the Clearwater opposition to the 45-minute helicopter flight to transport 682 pounds of material to Fred Burr Reservoir very misguided (see “A dam dilemma,” July 11).
The switchbacks and trail to the reservoir is incredibly brushy (you cannot even see the trail), very steep, out sloped and altogether far too narrow for horses. I would advise even the most experienced packer stay away from this trail, let alone make numerous trips on it. I wonder if Macfarlane has hiked this trail recently, or if he has any concept of the amount of time and effort that it takes to maintain and improve wilderness trails. I would say probably not.
Macfarlane points out that “Helicopters are prohibited, horses are not.” True, but the work required to keep trails open for horses in Wilderness is highly labor intensive, costs money, and drastically lagging behind. Even blasting is loud, expensive, and impactful. Where is this improvement crew supposed to come from and who is going to pay for them? How much time will they need to spend camping and impacting the land to finish improving the switchbacks? Good trail work takes a high level of skill that takes years to acquire. Last year there were only seven boots-on-the ground members of the Bitterroot National Forest trail crew and 1,500 miles of trail to maintain. That is an impossible task.
I understand that setting precedents like unnecessary helicopter flights is detrimental to Wilderness and degrades the law. If the Forest Service could spend less money and time tied up in Wilderness litigation, maybe they could afford to better maintain and improve trails like Fred Burr in the first place. If these trails could be kept in better condition, then they would be more suitable for stock, rendering helicopter flights unnecessary. Maybe Friends of the Clearwater should litigate Congress for not giving the Forest Service enough money to take proper care of designated Wilderness, the gems of our public lands. I think that Gary Macfarlane should drop this particular issue and let the Forest Service spend that money where it is desperately needed, which is up keeping the trails in the first place.