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The South Fork of the Salmon watershed showcases the remote wilderness we have in Idaho

Posted at 10:48 AM, Jun 20, 2021
and last updated 2023-06-12 15:34:35-04

YELLOW PINE, Idaho — The South Fork of the Salmon River didn't make the list of America's most endangered rivers in 2021, but it did make that list all three years prior.

A gold mine has been proposed near the headwaters of the south fork and last year Midas Gold, which is now Perpetua Resources, released an environmental draft for their proposed Stibnite Mine.

This proposal garnered more than 10,000 signatures showing how much people care about this issue, conservation groups and the recreational community voiced their concerns on the project.

On the other side of the coin, Yellow Pine, the closest town and Idaho lawmakers were overwhelmingly in favor of the project.

One of the things we haven't been able to do is showcase the South Fork of the Salmon watershed. So my brother Scott and I embarked on a three-day, two-night self-support kayaking expedition that took us 58 miles through this remote wilderness finishing after the confluence with the Main Salmon.

The South Fork of the Salmon is a classic expedition for experienced kayakers at over six feet becomes a full-on class five whitewater rollercoaster, we did it at 4.5 feet.

"It is one of my favorite rivers in the world and I’ve gone to a lot of countries to go kayaking, said Andrew Dunning, a Sun Valley native. "It is really cool to have it in Idaho and it remains untouched because of the difficulty."

The south fork watershed also provides hiking, camping and on June 26 the chinook salmon run begins. This has been an area where the Nez Perce Tribe has fished for generations.

"The South Fork of the Salmon watershed is our last best remaining habitat for summer chinook salmon in the entire Columbia Basin," said Reese Hodges of Idaho Rivers United. "Historically, we saw summer chinook salmon runs that were unparalleled in the world and the habitat is still there for this fish."

Neighboring rivers like the Lochsa, Selway, Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon have protections earning the distinction of being wild and scenic rivers from Congress, the south fork doesn't have any of these protections.

"It has been found to be eligible which means it has the remarkable outstanding values and free-flowing status that our wild and scenic rivers have," said Hodges. "It has also been determined to be suitable, meaning the forest service conducted a study that said this river should be recommended to Congress for designation. So what we really need is people to advocate for this river and we need the political will to get it across the finish line."

Currently, the forest service is analyzing the public comments on the Stibnite Mine proposal with the next step being a final environmental impact statement followed by a record of decision, Idaho Rivers believes that could happen sometime this fall.

The live stream from the North Fork Championship contributed five dollars of every purchase to Idaho Rivers United for their conservation work on Idaho Rivers and that is also where we ran into Andrew Dunning.

"If you have friends that are kayakers go take them on the South Fork the more people that know about it the easier it is to protect," said Dunning. "So few people go in there and you can really feel that. You see so much wildlife it is just so pristine and untouched with water quality that is so pure and clean."

Kayakers who want to run the south fork need to pick up a permit from the forest service. There is no camping allowed on the Main Salmon after the confluence.

Paddlers need to be prepared for a full-on whitewater run in the Idaho wilderness, but they also need to pack out everything they bring in to help keep this watershed pristine.