The Great Burn and Kelly Creek

This is a large roadless area on the Bitterroot Divide (over 250,000 acres) that remained roadless because most of the valuable timber was destroyed in the great forest fires of 1910 which devastated northern Idaho and northwest Montana. About 155,000 acres of the roadless are inside Idaho.

© George Wuerthner
Fish Lake in the Great Burn

Map of the roadless areas of the Clearwater National Forest



Even today, much of the timber remains small and there are expanses of alder brush, tundra, and low elevation bare slopes. Idaho and Montana conservationists have long hoped for designation of a Great Bear Wilderness by an Act of Congress, only to see their local congressional delegations go from bad to worse. Nevertheless, the US Forest Service has recommended that Congress designate a Great Bear wilderness of about 175,000 acres. About 2/3 of the roadless area is in Idaho. They have named it "Hoodoo" on their roadless area map. The country is rugged, but the highest portion of the Bitterroot Mountain lies to the south inside the magnificent  Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness.

Wildlife is diverse including black bear, abundant moose, elk, deer, mountain goats, the rare wolverine, cougar, and now wolves. Studies undertaken for the reintroduction of the grizzly bear show that the area is tremendous grizzly bear habitat, but this is another project brown politicians have been able to put on hold. The elk herd in the area has declined over the last 15 years as the burn has filled in with forest. There is rancorous debate  over the reasons for the decline of the elk.Down Silver Creek


Down Silver Creek in the Idaho portion of the Great Burn
Copyright © Ralph Maughan


Kelly Creek in the Great Burn is one of Idaho's best wild trout fisheries, containing a good population of the rare westslope cutthroat trout. Logging plans threaten the tributaries of Kelly Creek. Throughout much of 1995 and 96, wolf no. 16 and an a wolf originally from Montana (prior to the reintroduction) made Kelly Creek their home. In 1997 wolf 16 whelped five pups. In 1998 they were six more. Still more were born in 1999. Named the Kelly Creek Pack, the offspring of the original pair still roam the Great Burn and adjacent areas in 2005. They can be heard, and occasionally seen by backcountry visitors, although the ridges of seemingly endless mountains tend to hide wildlife until it is close to the visitor. Idaho Fish and Game now thinks there are too many wolves and wants to reduce, and keep their population reduced from 75% of the present number.
Hanson Meadows on Kelly Creek. The Great Burn
Hanson Meadows on Kelly Creek in the Great Burn. Copyright © Friends of the Clearwater.

Although the Forest Service is supposed to be protecting this roadless area from motorized vehicles, ATVs are assaulting it, apparently with Forest Service complicity, especially in the vicinity of Fish Lake.

The Great Burn / last revised March 12, 2006
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