In 2020, in the remote backcountry of central Idaho, Western Rivers Conservancy forever protected a gem of a property along the South Fork Salmon River. As a result, outdoor enthusiasts have a prime new access point into the largest roadless wilderness in the Lower 48: the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
To protect the entire 234-acre South Fork Wilderness Ranch—one of the last private reaches of the near-pristine South Fork—WRC worked in two phases. Early in 2020, we facilitated a conservation easement over the western half of the ranch in partnership with the former owner and the Payette Land Trust. Then, in September, we transferred the eastern half of the ranch to the Payette National Forest using funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to permanently conserve the property for fish, wildlife and recreational access.
The South Fork Salmon River rivals the world-famous Middle Fork for its scenic wonders and rugged adventure, but the South Fork is far more isolated. The project delivers rare public access via one of just a few roads that descend some 4,000 feet into the river canyon. Now backpackers, equestrians and hunters have a new gateway to roughly 10,000 acres of public lands in the northwestern portion of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, with its spectacular scenery, big-game hunting and outstanding wildlife-viewing.
In terms of salmon habitat, the South Fork is as pristine as it gets. With reasonably intact assemblages of native fish, the river produces a whopping one-fifth of the entire Columbia Basin’s spring Chinook salmon. With the completion of this effort, the wild jewel that is the South Fork Salmon River is one step closer to being protected along its entire length—a win for fish, wildlife and people alike.