Living the wildlife: Programs help local landowner create inviting habitat for wild animals near the city

If you talk to Dan West about his land, you’re likely to get an earful.

He’s particular about his few dozen acres and has a vision for what it’s going to become.

“There’s a reason we don’t put cement on every gosh dang square mile in Idaho Falls,” West, a retired Naval officer said. “We need to keep indigenous plants going and the local animals — they need a place too.”

West, who lives on the flat land west of the Comore Loma and Blackhawk Estates area in Ammon, is following the examples of neighbors and planting several acres of vegetation just for wildlife.

One neighbor in particular, Jared Finn, is a habitat director for the local Pheasants Forever chapter. Finn has 90 acres of land adjacent to West’s property and several years ago planted much of it in trees and shrubs that would attract wildlife, in particular deer and pheasants.

Recently, a group of volunteers, Finn included, were on hands and knees busy digging holes and planting chokecherries, white spruce trees and red osier dogwood.

“(Red osier) has a white berry that pheasant like and deer munch on,” Finn said as he pushed the roots into the ground and pushed soil over it. “That’s my land over there,” he said pointing to rows of trees and bushes. “There’s about 100 deer there right now.”

Finn was joined by eight other volunteers who were busy planting about 1,500 trees and shrubs on West’s property. The dogwood bushes, chokecherries and trees were placed in a certain order to eventually create an attractive habitat, natural food plots for wildlife and a wind barrier to keep soil in place. The specific combination of plants provide food and nesting opportunities for wildlife.

“Habitat’s messy,” Finn said. “It will be like a fun land for wildlife when it grows in.”

New plants need water. To accommodate the several acres of new trees and shrubs, West recently installed about $25,000 in irrigation with the help of Finn and other Pheasant Forever volunteers. West said the arrangement also is done with the help of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game through its Habitat Improvement Projects and the National Resources Conservation Service, a federal program. The programs help get much of the equipment at a discount and cover some costs.

“We’ve worked with Pheasants Forever a lot. They’re a good group,” said James Brower, a communications manager with Fish and Game. “If they want to make their land more wildlife friendly, then we have monies available for them to do that. We do it fairly strategically. We’re looking for bigger projects on larger pieces of ground and those that are adjacent to other projects and lands that are also good for wildlife.”

West said besides planting, installing all the irrigation equipment was a big task. Finn’s expertise and experience guided the operation.

“Water is king in this area,” Finn said. “If you don’t have water, you don’t grow a whole lot. Most of our projects we have a partnership with Rain For Rent where they give us a discounted rate for all the products and service they do.”

Finn said Pheasants Forever signs a contract with the landowner offering financial help and expertise. The landowner commits to take care of things and manage the property to promote wildlife. Should the landowner break the contract, they have to reimburse the funds.

“The first thing we do is vetting the landowner to make sure they are engaged and in it for the long haul,” Finn said. “We are very critical and concerned about how the money is spent and where it goes. Dan is fully invested so that’s the main thing.”

Finn said he tries to find areas that have maybe 80 percent of what they need so it’s a quick turnaround. “We try not to find a bare field that has nothing to offer, it takes so much to build habitat.”

Last week, West drove some visitors along 15 acres he recently purchased and added to his property next to Crowley Road.

“Developers were going to put 100 homes in here,” he said waving his arm at the land. “I’m going to put 600 trees in here and leave that section in alfalfa.”

Finn said several properties in his neighborhood have joined in the program, about 1,000 acres in total.

“We have 200 to 300 deer that winter down here,” Finn said. “They just work their way down through Comore Loma and Blackhawk and end up at my place and Dan’s place and others down here.”

Brower said that historically, much of the area was deer and elk habitat.

“There’s a small deer herd that resides right there and they’re there for a good portion of the year,” he said. “Idaho Falls sits right where there used to be a large winter range for deer and elk. This is where they want to be, especially when the snow gets deep.”

West said he wants to be a part of making it inviting for wildlife. Next to his home is a tiny pond with a few wild ducks and geese.

West said he isn’t from Idaho, but has family ties here.

“My grandmother was born in Bone and went to that little school up there,” he said. “I just retired from the military, 32 years in the Navy. We took a vacation out here in Idaho and ended up buying this beautiful property 16 years ago with every intention of becoming local ranchers. I retired at the end of 2019, and we have just been going to town. This was our first full year here. I think it’s important to champion the people who are keeping their soil green.”

Thousands of fish lined up for stocking in East Idaho

The month of May will see some heavy duty stocking efforts by Idaho Fish and Game with more than 65,000 rainbow trout going into several locations around the Upper Snake Region and more than 32,000 trout in southeastern locations.

These are all catchable-size trout in the 10- to 12-inch range.

One notable stocking that didn’t make any of Fish and Game’s April reports was 38,750 rainbows dumped into Ashton Reservoir this past week.

“They had them ready and decided to do it last Monday and Tuesday,” said James Brower, Fish and Game regional communications manager, of the Ashton Reservoir stocking. “They put the fish near the boat ramp just over the river bridge (north of town). There’s plenty of fishing up and down the bank there and people fishing off the dock have done pretty good.”

Of the 65,000 fish scheduled for May, Ririe Reservoir will get 18,000 in the middle of the month and Island Park Reservoir is slated for 9,600. Birch Creek is due to receive two stockings during the month for a total of more than 5,000. The Henrys Fork will get three stockings during the month totaling about 7,500 trout.

Brower said spring is an ideal time to get out while the fish are more active.

“It’s a good time while the weather is a little bit cooler before some places heat up,” he said. “Some of those ponds the water gets kind of warm and the fish kind of turn off a bit. But while the water is still cold the fish will be active and should be biting.”

Southeast Idaho waters are also being prepped for the big summer fishing season.

“We have 31 stocking events in the Southeast Region in the month of May alone,” said Jennifer Jackson, regional communications manager with Fish and Game. “Some of those places are going to be hit more than once. We’ve got more than 32,000 fish to be stocked at these different sites in southeast Idaho.”

These sites include the Bear River, Crowthers Reservoir, Deep Creek Reservoir and several smaller ponds. Montpelier Reservoir is due for 5,000 fish later in the month.

“We’ve got Memorial Day coming up at the end of the month and people are getting excited to get out fishing and enjoying the summer weather, so this is the big push getting us ready for fishing season,” Jackson said.

In the Salmon area, about 3,500 trout will be planted in local ponds and at Mosquito Flat Reservoir. The Hayden Creek Pond will receive 1,000 during the month and Mosquito Flat Reservoir will also get about 1,000 toward the end of the month.

For specifics on planned fish stocking locations and schedules, go to Fish and Game’s Fish Planner online at idfg.idaho.gov/fish/stocking#stocking-schedule.

Forest Service closes Lead Draw Trail to prevent target shooting-hiker conflicts

It was a case of an accident waiting to happen.

Before the worst could become reality, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest implemented an emergency trail closure this week for the hiking/horseback riding Lead Draw Trail just south of Pocatello. The area is also a popular unofficial shooting range. The unusual closure halts trail use but continues to allow recreational target shooting.

“With the number of reports we’ve heard regarding near-misses between target shooters and hikers, I could not in good conscience keep the trail open as it currently sits,” said Kim Obele, Westside District ranger. “It was only a matter of time until we had a tragedy and someone was seriously injured.”

Most of the reports have been circulated on social media by hikers who talk of bullets flying too close for comfort, sometimes across the trail or in their direction.

“It seems like with more people recreating and more new users coming out, there are more conflicts happening with that area,” said Sheila Larsen, recreation manager at the Westside Ranger District. “We don’t want to wait for an accident to do something.”

The temporary trail closure expires July 31. By that time, the Forest Service hopes to have a permanent solution.

“This time we don’t have a plan that we’re trying to sell to the public,” Larsen said. “We’re asking people to be part of the conversation to help us figure out what is the solution. Is it rerouting the trail? Is it closing it to shooting? Is it something else?”

Larsen said the Lead Draw Trail is generally not frequented by seasoned hikers because of its unofficial status as a target shooting range. Last year, the Forest Service issued an informational video and service announcements after poor behavior and particularly close calls along the trail. Firefighters battled a blaze at Lead Draw in June 2020 caused by an exploding target. In October 2020, a Pocatello hiker went to a local TV station to talk about target shooters sending bullets in her direction as she hiked down the trail.

“People have gone there and had an incident there, and they don’t go back,” Larsen said. “It’s the new users that go because they’re not aware that it is an unofficial shooting area.”

Larsen said fortunately the Mink Creek corridor south of Pocatello has several stellar trails for hikers and others. The Forest Service is pointing outdoor recreators to alternate nearby trails such as the Crestline and Walker Creek trails. Although the trail itself is closed, access to the Lead Draw area will not change.

“This is kind of non-conventional to close the trail and keep the shooting,” she said. “But looking at all the opportunities for hiking around Pocatello, there’s so many and there’s not a lot of safe opportunities for safe shooting.”

The Westside Ranger District is encouraging public comments and suggestions. Contact Sheila Larsen or Robert Harris at the district by calling 208-236-7500 or via email at Sheila.larsen@usda.gov or robert.e.harris@usda.gov.

Forest Service closes trail to prevent target shooting-hiker conflicts

It was a case of an accident waiting to happen.

Before the worst could become reality, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest implemented an emergency trail closure this week for the hiking/horseback riding Lead Draw Trail just south of Pocatello. The area is also a popular unofficial shooting range. The unusual closure halts trail use but continues to allow recreational target shooting.

“With the number of reports we’ve heard regarding near-misses between target shooters and hikers, I could not in good conscience keep the trail open as it currently sits,” said Kim Obele, Westside District ranger. “It was only a matter of time until we had a tragedy and someone was seriously injured.”

Most of the reports have been circulated on social media by hikers who talk of bullets flying too close for comfort, sometimes across the trail or in their direction.

“It seems like with more people recreating and more new users coming out, there are more conflicts happening with that area,” said Sheila Larsen, recreation manager at the Westside Ranger District. “We don’t want to wait for an accident to do something.”

The temporary trail closure expires July 31. By that time, the Forest Service hopes to have a permanent solution.

“This time we don’t have a plan that we’re trying to sell to the public,” Larsen said. “We’re asking people to be part of the conversation to help us figure out what is the solution. Is it rerouting the trail? Is it closing it to shooting? Is it something else?”

Larsen said the Lead Draw Trail is generally not frequented by seasoned hikers because of its unofficial status as a target shooting range. Last year, the Forest Service issued an informational video and service announcements after poor behavior and particularly close calls along the trail. Firefighters battled a blaze at Lead Draw in June 2020 caused by an exploding target. In October 2020, a Pocatello hiker went to a local TV station to talk about target shooters sending bullets in her direction as she hiked down the trail.

“People have gone there and had an incident there, and they don’t go back,” Larsen said. “It’s the new users that go because they’re not aware that it is an unofficial shooting area.”

Larsen said fortunately the Mink Creek corridor south of Pocatello has several stellar trails for hikers and others. The Forest Service is pointing outdoor recreators to alternate nearby trails such as the Crestline and Walker Creek trails. Although the trail itself is closed, access to the Lead Draw area will not change.

“This is kind of non-conventional to close the trail and keep the shooting,” she said. “But looking at all the opportunities for hiking around Pocatello, there’s so many and there’s not a lot of safe opportunities for safe shooting.”

The Westside Ranger District is encouraging public comments and suggestions. Contact Sheila Larsen or Robert Harris at the district by calling 208-236-7500 or via email at Sheila.larsen@usda.gov or robert.e.harris@usda.gov

Nonresident deer tags already sold out; earliest in recent history

Nonresident regular deer tags for the coming hunting season have already sold out, the earliest in recent history, Idaho Fish and Game announced Friday.

Fish and Game expects that nonresident whitetail only tags will sell out soon.

“Fish and Game has sold out of nonresident deer and elk tags for the past five years, and sell out dates have consistently gotten earlier,” the department said in a news release. “Nonresident tags go on sale on Dec. 1 for the following year.”

“This was the first year that the (Fish and Game) Commission implemented a percentage cap by game management unit for nonresidents,” said James Brower, Upper Snake Region communications manager. “They had to choose basically where they had to go.”

Brower said caps for nonresidents was between 10 and 15 percent per game management unit. The overall number of nonresident deer tags remained the same.

“What did change was the number that could hunt in any particular unit,” Brower said. “That likely added to the urgency for nonresidents to get the spot that they wanted. Some of those units were sold out within a very quick period of time.”

About 2,900 nonresident elk tags are still available out of a total of 15,716.

Last year, nonresident tags for elk sold out June 17, deer tags sold out June 26 and whitetail only tags July 26. Previous to that, nonresident tags sold out in August or later during the fall.

Idaho resident deer and elk tags are not limited by quotas.

Fish and Game said there are still ways for nonresidents to obtain a tag. They can:

• Apply for a controlled hunt, and if selected, a nonresident can buy the controlled hunt tag. (Nonresidents are limited to 10 percent of all controlled hunt tags.)

• Buy a returned nonresident tag, which if available, will go on sale at 10 a.m. on April 22 on a first-come, first-served basis. Tags available will be published online at 10 a.m. on the Tuesday preceding the sale. Afterward, returned tags will be sold (including elk tags) on these dates: May 20, June 24, July 22, Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and 16, Oct. 7 and 21 and Nov. 4.

• Hire an outfitter if the outfitter has nonresident tags available. Fish and Game sets aside 1,985 tags for outfitters.

Seven new backcountry ambassadors to work Teton Pass area

Frequent winter visitors to Teton Pass and surrounding areas will eventually bump into a smiling skier with a bright orange jacket with an embroidered logo reading “Teton Pass Ambassador.”

The Teton Backcountry Alliance has recruited seven skilled volunteers to help with the load that for many years fell on the shoulders of Jay Pistono. Pistono and recently, Mike Penterson, work for the Bridger-Teton National Forest to promote safety, a sense of community and sustainable access for visitors in the wintertime. Now, the Bridger-Teton will have seven more helpers.

“With the winter of COVID and the dramatic increase of backcountry use and the helluva winter we’re having, all of which are related to each other, we thought it would be good to have more boots on the ground,” said Teton Backcountry Alliance director Gary Kofinas. “People who can basically be there for folks. We have a lot of out-of-towners. If you’ve gone over Teton Pass recently, you’ll see there’s a lot of licenses that are not nearby folks.”

The idea of backcountry ambassadors has been used successfully at other popular areas experiencing crowding in places such as Colorado and California. This program is a formal arraignment with the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Kofinas said ambassadors help visitors orient themselves and check to make sure people know what they’re getting themselves into and answer questions.

“They help by saying, ‘Hey, I see you’re from out of town, do you know where you’re going? Do you have the proper equipment? You realize it’s a high avalanche day?’ Not necessarily tell people where to go, you can’t do that, but just to be there as an information source,” he said.

Kofinas said they can also help a little with the perennial issue of parking.

“They are not parking attendants but they are helpful with that whole line-up of cars on top of people waiting. It can be a little disorganized,” he said.

The ambassadors plan to be seen at the top of the pass, in the overflow lot, in the Phillips parking lot or at the Old Pass Road parking area, “or just out skiing.”

Kofinas said to bring the new ambassadors up to speed, they shadowed Pistono for a day or two.

“We want them to be friendly and non-confrontational,” he said. “Hopefully people will give them a smile.”

The new ambassadors are Ariel Kazunas, of Jackson, Wyo.; Brian Siegfried, Jackson; Anthony Campolattaro, Wilson, Wyo.; Natalee Stimpson, Victor; Randy Roberts, Wilson; Daniel Nagy, Driggs; and Anna Gibson, Teton Village, Wyo.

Herd of elk escorted across closed Highway 20

As the saying goes, the third time’s a charm.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Idaho State Police with the help of Idaho Fish and Game and others, shutdown U.S. Highway 20 near Sugar City for just under 15 minutes and played crossing guards to about 170 elk for the third winter in a row.

“It seemed like they knew the routine,” said James Brower, of Idaho Fish and Game who was at the scene.

Brower said almost like clockwork, the elk came down from the Teton River Canyon at the same time as the past two years. They massed just south of Sugar City near where the Teton River, Idaho Highway 33 and U.S. Highway 20 meet. The elk had definite ideas about where they want to spend the winter.

“The Sand Creek (Desert) is where they want to be,” Brower said.

Fish and Game offered up snacks to the 500- to 700-pound animals in hopes of keeping them away from the highway. Madison County Sheriff’s deputies also helped patrol the area hoping to keep them off the roads.

At about 2 p.m. Tuesday, the elk gathered in a field near Highway 20. With a little coaxing, and a closed highway, the elk marched across the road heading west.

“They came out into the open and we didn’t have to encourage them too much,” Brower said.

“This was a well-coordinated effort and we would like to thank (Idaho State Police), (Idaho Transportation Department), Madison County and all of the many landowners involved in making this happen safely,” said Doug Petersen regional conservation officer.

Brower said one of Fish and Game’s biologists who “is good at counting large groups” counted 171 elk.

Brower said this is the third year in a row that the elk moved from their historic wintering area in Teton Canyon and have followed the river down toward Sugar City and Rexburg.

In 2019, six elk from this herd were struck and killed on Idaho Highway 33 shortly after midnight.

Signs were erected this past week in the area to minimize disturbance to the elk, but some people have gone out of their way to harass the animals.

“Several snow machines were documented chasing a group of elk along the Teton River on Sunday afternoon,” Brower said. Chasing wildlife is illegal. He said some minors were detained in the incident.

“Please be respectful and give wildlife some space, especially during this time of year when they are extremely vulnerable,” Petersen said.

Last February, large groups of elk were escorted across the highway on their way to the Sand Creek Desert. The elk remained there until spring when they trickled back toward the Teton River canyon.

Brower said there are more elk wintering in the Teton River canyon but they hope they don’t have any major winter travel plans. But elk are known to sometimes move into the area south of Sugar City.

Officials urge the public to keep their distance and motorists to slow down while driving through the area.

“Motorists should continue to use caution in the area and keep an eye out for wildlife crossing roads,” Fish and Game said. “It is possible for additional elk to be in the area next to the highway and they may decide to cross on their own at any time.”

Fish and Game said it will continue to monitor the situation.

Fish and Game has three emergency conditions that can trigger winter feeding. Those include preventing damage to private property, such as damage to haystacks; public safety concerns, such as elk congregating near a busy highway; and harsh winter conditions.

Forest Service says company exploring heli-skiing in East Idaho

The Forest Service reports that an effort to allow heli-skiing for the first time in the Centennial Range near Island Park is still stalled at the beginning of the process.

“We’re still working on the application and what it would take for me to even accept that application,” said Caribou-Targhee Forest Service ranger Liz Davy.

Davy said the Forest Service was approached about a year and a half ago by the Yellowstone Club, a private group in the Big Sky, Montana, area, with the idea of taking clients heli-skiing to five different areas in the Centennial Range.

The Yellowstone Club dropped their interest in the proposal, but another company has taken up the idea.

After consulting with a Forest Service biologist, three of the areas were taken off the possibility list.

“We necked it down to two because of conflicts with wildlife and concerns of what use in those areas would do to wildlife, primarily wolverine,” she said. “There’s a lot of concern from our wildlife biologists about the effects of helicopter use on denning bears and wolverines.”

The two possibilities remaining are the Sawtelle Peak area and the Reas Peak area.

While things are still in the preliminary idea stages and no permits have been issued, Davy said she has already received “hundreds of comments and most of them are not supportive, but also a lot of them are form letters.”

The organization Winter Wildlands Alliance erroneously posted on its website that “the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is about to issue a permit for commercial heli-skiing on the north side of Mt. Jefferson and several of its neighboring peaks in the Centennials” and requests followers to write the Forest Service.

Davy said her office may issue a research permit this winter season to allow guides from the company to snowmobile into the area and explore its safety, potential landing and pick-up sites and avalanche potential. But many questions remain before her office will even accept an application for heli-skiing.

“The next step would be for them to complete a full-blown application that addresses our questions,” she said. “We may have additional questions as this rolls along. I have to decide whether I will even accept the application or not. I have criteria that I use to evaluate applications. If it meets all the criteria, I can accept the application.”

Once an application is accepted, the Forest Service will conduct an environmental analysis which includes taking public comment.

Davy said heli-skiing is controversial in the places it’s allowed in the Rocky Mountains. Heli-skiing operations have been operating out of Jackson, Wyoming, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest for decades. A day of heli-skiing is advertised at $1,550 per person.

Icy addiction: Would be ice climbers advised to find a mentor

Ice climbers call it “The Pain” or “The Screaming Barfies.”

It’s a pain that often comes after several minutes of climbing in the cold with arms raised high and a lack of blood flow to warm the fingers.

Men and women will lay in the snow and moan and cry when the blood returns to their cold fingers, nerves in the hands scream in agony as if on fire. Fortunately, the pain subsides after several excruciating minutes with no lasting effects.

“That’s ice climbing,” said one long time climber. “The misery index is much higher than with other types of climbing.”

But for many climbers, the attraction to climb ice scratches the itch to get outside during the winter, to possess more cool gear or to keep in shape during the off months.

“I like being out in nature in the winter, climbing these beautiful formations,” said Idaho climber Sam Roundy on Facebook. “The ice climbing community seems a little more open. … There is certainly more risk of having stuff fall on you. … It’s not a bad way to spend a day.”

While the allure of rock climbing seems to be captivating a generation and making its way even into the summer Olympics, ice climbing’s popularity is growing at a more glacial pace, at least in East Idaho.

During a recent ice-climbing outing in Teton Canyon, Sheldon Christensen of Idaho Falls gave out a gleeful shout halfway up a frozen water flow.

“I love ice climbing,” he said. “But I have four young kids and don’t get out as much as I’d like.”

Popularity in East Idaho is also limited due to access. Another limiting factor is the added equipment required, costing hundreds of dollars more than regular rock climbing gear.

Rexburg ice climbing expert Scott Hurst said his favorite places to ice climb require hours to get to or the need for snowmobiles. Two popular ice climbing destinations include Teton Canyon east of Driggs and Hyalite Canyon near Bozeman, Montana.

“My favorite place to climb hands down is Hyalite Canyon because of the variety and there’s lots of ice,” Hurst said. “The two times I’ve been there this winter, I climbed different stuff than before. It’s fun and engaging. There’s quite a bit in Hyalite Canyon, we’re talking hundreds of routes. Water ice easy to water ice hard.”

The Hyalite Canyon ice climbing guide book boasts of more than 150 ice routes in less than 3 square miles. Each winter, Bozeman offers an ice festival inviting hundreds of climbers for clinics, classes and socializing for most of a week. Sadly, the pandemic canceled this season’s festival.

Because Bozeman is more than 3.5 hours from Idaho Falls, that puts Hurst on the lookout to discover ice flows worth sinking crampons and tools into closer to home.

“Some of my favorite stuff that I’ve been climbing on has been really obscure and stuff that’s around and doesn’t get climbed on much,” he said. “There’s some stuff up Indian Creek. It’s fun, but hard to get too so you don’t go to it all the time. There’s some stuff in the Lost River Range. I’ve been to several, like the north face of Borah Peak.”

Many climbers want to “give it a try,” but experts advise that just like rock climbing, potential ice climbers need to get good tutoring and understand that while there are similarities to climbing rock, ice climbing is a different game.

One of the world’s most famous ice climbers, Will Gadd, said in a recent online blog, “Realize that falling off while leading an ice climb will likely result in a minimum of badly broken leg, ankle, head, pelvis, neck, back or all of this list, and set your mental dial and approach to the day appropriately. It’s not rock climbing.”

With rock climbing, falling is normal, often encouraged when trying hard. The No. 1 rule in ice climbing — at least when leading a route — is don’t fall. Remember that ice climbers have lots of sharp, pointy pieces of metal hanging from their harnesses, boots and in their hands that can go where you don’t want them to should you fall.

Hurst, who has taken hundreds of Brigham Young University-Idaho students ice climbing while serving as the school’s Outdoor Activities director, said instruction is key.

“Get some good instruction to begin with, that makes a big difference,” he said. “With your initial experience with ice climbing, it will be hard for you to master the technique. Once you have the technique down it will be a piece of cake.”

The technique involves learning to ascend the ice flow by kicking in front points of crampons and hammering in the picks of your ice tools. One expert ice climber describes it as “kick, kick, swing, swing, repeat.” While it sounds simple, it can be challenging and thrilling at the same time. Different kinds of ice also presents different challenges.

“One thing people do is work harder than they need to at it,” Hurst said. “(Such as) swinging the tool too much, hanging on your arms too much and not trusting your feet.”

Hurst also said people can get into trouble trying to lead routes before mastering basic skills. He recommends that climbers get mentoring from skilled friends, at festivals, such as the one in Bozeman or from guide services.

“The biggest thing with ice climbing is to go with someone who knows what they are doing and appreciate cold fingers and cold toes,” he said.

Forest Service says company exploring heli-skiing in Centennial Mountains

The Forest Service reports that an effort to allow heli-skiing for the first time in the Centennial Range near Island Park is still stalled at the beginning of the process.

“We’re still working on the application and what it would take for me to even accept that application,” said Caribou-Targhee Forest Service ranger Liz Davy.

Davy said the Forest Service was approached about a year and a half ago by the Yellowstone Club, a private group in the Big Sky, Montana, area, with the idea of taking clients heli-skiing to five different areas in the Centennial Range.

The Yellowstone Club dropped their interest in the proposal, but another company has taken up the idea.

After consulting with a Forest Service biologist, three of the areas were taken off the possibility list.

“We necked it down to two because of conflicts with wildlife and concerns of what use in those areas would do to wildlife, primarily wolverine,” she said. “There’s a lot of concern from our wildlife biologists about the effects of helicopter use on denning bears and wolverines.”

The two possibilities remaining are the Sawtelle Peak area and the Reas Peak area.

While things are still in the preliminary idea stages and no permits have been issued, Davy said she has already received “hundreds of comments and most of them are not supportive, but also a lot of them are form letters.”

The organization Winter Wildlands Alliance erroneously posted on its website that “the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is about to issue a permit for commercial heli-skiing on the north side of Mt. Jefferson and several of its neighboring peaks in the Centennials” and requests followers to write the Forest Service.

Davy said her office may issue a research permit this winter season to allow guides from the company to snowmobile into the area and explore its safety, potential landing and pick-up sites and avalanche potential. But many questions remain before her office will even accept an application for heli-skiing.

“The next step would be for them to complete a full-blown application that addresses our questions,” she said. “We may have additional questions as this rolls along. I have to decide whether I will even accept the application or not. I have criteria that I use to evaluate applications. If it meets all the criteria, I can accept the application.”

Once an application is accepted, the Forest Service will conduct an environmental analysis which includes taking public comment.

Davy said heli-skiing is controversial in the places it’s allowed in the Rocky Mountains. Heli-skiing operations have been operating out of Jackson, Wyoming, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest for decades. A day of heli-skiing is advertised at $1,550 per person.