Many Urged to Avoid Rainbowsby The Associated Press
The Idaho Statesman, June 29, 2001
Environmentalists worry about area as numbers swell
BEAR VALLEY -- Environmentalists trying to protect salmon called on sightseers and counterculture supporters to resist the urge to join the Rainbow Family as numbers swelled at the loose-knit group's annual backwoods gathering.
Around-the-clock patrols continued Thursday along Bear Valley Creek in the Boise National Forest, where it was feared that an influx of nature-loving, nonconformist campers might seriously damage spawning habitat.
A Forest Service fisheries biologist was leading volunteers -- primarily Rainbow Family members -- in efforts to mark stretches of Sack and Cache creeks so participants will stay away from areas known to be inhabited by such fish as threatened bull trout.
But Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said it was almost inevitable that damage would be done as the gathering accelerates to an expected Fourth of July crescendo. By then, authorities and participants expect more than three times as many people to be on hand as the 6,500 who live in Boise County.
"To date, I think the Rainbow organizers and the Forest Service have done a good job of educating people and working to keep folks away from the most sensitive areas," Sedivy said. "But 20,000 people will be much harder to control. No matter how careful those folks are, there will be significant impact."
It was unclear how many campers had made their way to the scene by Thursday, but it could easily have been more than double the Forest Service's official estimate of 3,500. They were staying in tents, recreational vehicles and simple tarpaulin lean-tos scattered through meadows and woods over about nine square miles about 100 miles northeast of Boise.
Signs throughout the area, most of them posted by Rainbow Family members, warned against polluting the water or doing any other environmental damage.
"If they peak at numbers that they historically have, we're going to see the majority of the group come in later. So as many efforts as have been made, that's still a huge number of people to get that word out to. And we're concerned about our ability to do that," said Buck Feist, a member of the Forest Service's National Incident Management Team. "Unfortunately, the onus kind of falls on our law enforcement and the sensibilities of the Rainbows."
Limbs were lashed together to form some rickety bridges over the area's creeks. But heavy foot traffic and forest soil made even more unstable by heavy rain on Wednesday left officials increasingly concerned about the effect of the gathering on streams.
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the day after touring the encampment, and all four members of Idaho's congressional delegation called on the National Marine Fisheries Service to get more involved in helping to protect the watershed where about $6 million has been spent in recent years on habitat improvement. The Fisheries Service has the primary responsibility for implementing Endangered Species Act protections for the fish involved.
"As the numbers of participants increase, Forest Service resources will be strained and exhausted," the congressional delegation wrote in a letter to Donna Darm, the agency's acting regional administrator in Seattle. "Idaho and these listed salmon cannot afford anything less than our best, and equitable, efforts to protect this resource."
The Fisheries Service responded with a statement late Thursday saying it is very concerned about the situation and has been working with other agencies for weeks on efforts aimed at minimizing the impact.
"NMFS would have preferred to prevent a large group of people from gathering near salmon-bearing streams," the Fisheries Service said. "Since that wasn't possible, we've been trying to help manage a difficult situation to reduce damage to this sensitive environment."
Kempthorne also signed an emergency declaration on Thursday for neighboring Valley County. The governor signed a similar order for Boise County on Wednesday, making state resources available to authorities who figure to incur expenses cleaning up after and responding to trouble involving gathering participants.
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