The proposed Mallard-Larkins wilderness

© George Wuerthner
On Larkins Peak looking toward the Black Buttes

Protection of the big Mallard/Larkins area in northern Idaho has been at the top of the priority wilderness designation for a long time. The proposal goes back to the 1960s.

The roadless area straddles the long east-to-west-running divide between the Clearwater River drainage to the south and the St. Joe to the north. Idaho conservationists propose about 220,000 acres of wilderness. In order to forestall wilderness designation the Forest Service used its administrative authority to create the Mallard-Larkins "Pioneer Area" instead. This scenic, but small, bit of country is opnly about 20,000 acres. The Forest Service has since recommended about 150,000 acres as designated wilderness.

The Mallard-Larkins is very close to both the Great Burn, Pot Mountain, Weitas Creek, and the Moose Mountain roadless areas. Altogether, there are over 800,000 acres of roadless area separated only by a few roads and clearcuts.

The area is mostly steep mountains, jagged ridges, and there are 38 sub-alpine lakes. Wildlife includes elk, deer, moose, black bear, cougar, mountain goats, and an occasional wolf.

© John Osborn
The North Fork of the Clearwater near its headwaters just below the Mallard- Larkins roadless area.

Management of the area is complicated by the presence of many alternating sections of private land, arranged like a checkerboard, derived from the notorious Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant of 1864. For more information on one of the biggest giveaways in American history all American citizens should read Railroads and Clearcuts: Legacy of Congress's 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan. Spokane, WA, Inland Empire Public Lands Council.

The threat to the Mallard-Larkins has always been timbering. The photo below shows what the future of the area could be. Most of the area to the southwest and southeast of Mallard Larkins (the railroad land grant country) has had the trees mowed down in huge clearcuts accessed by hundreds of miles of logging roads that squirm around the mountains like worms on a corpse.

In Spotted Lewis Creek (formerly part of the Mallard-Larkins roadless area)

© John Osborn

Text by Ralph Maughan. Photos George Wuerthner and John Osborn/ Feb. 9, 1997