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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 2021-06-20 20:32:34-04

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 their environmental draft proposal for the 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, the closest town Yellow Pine and Idaho lawmakers were overwhelmingly all 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 up after the confluence of the Main Salmon.

The South Fork of the Salmon has long been a favorite trip for experienced kayakers who paddle this whitewater rollercoaster at over six feet when it becomes a full-on class five trip, we did it at 4.5 feet.

“Honestly, it is one of my favorite rivers in the world and I’ve gone to a lot of countries to go kayaking and it is really cool to have it in Idaho," said Sun Valley native Andrew Dunning. "The south fork because of the difficulty of the whitewater really remains untouched so few people go in there and you can really feel that you see so much wildlife, it is just so pristine and untouched, the water quality is so pure and clean."

The south fork watershed also provides hiking, camping and on June 26 the chinook salmon run begins and it has been a place where the Nez Perce tried 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."

But unlike many of the neighboring rivers like the Lochsa, Selway, Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon that have earned the distinction of being wild and scenic rivers from Congress, the south fork doesn't have any 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 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. "I go in there multiple times a year, I think one of the seasons I paddled it seven times I love it that much."

Kayakers who want to run the south fork need to pick up a permit from the forest service and no camping is 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.