The 4.2 million acre Salmon-Challis National Forest is rich in history and natural resources. The Salmon-Challis is one of the largest national forests in the country with an immense amount of unroaded, wild lands that support an immeasurable number of recreational opportunities. The Salmon-Challis National Forest also provides habitat for numerous plants and wildlife species, as well as plays a key role in the water needs of the region. To celebrate the importance of the Salmon-Challis National Forest, ICL will be publishing a blog series celebrating this vital land and the opportunities provided within.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest is a beautiful place to experience in each and every season. Whether it’s a winter snowshoeing adventure, early spring hike, summer excursion or fall hunt – there’s something special to see year round. As I’m currently enjoying my summer adventures in the region, I also look forward to what awaits me there in the fall.

An animal carcass sits in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Stevie Gawryluk photo.

Autumn is a busy season for my household. It is the time of year we have the opportunity to provide sustenance for ourselves in the coming months through big game and upland bird harvests. While the tags I typically hunt are in the Sawtooth National Forest, I often think back to my husband’s elk tag hunt that I joined last fall in the Salmon-Challis National Forest – a forest that can continue to support Idaho’s hunting heritage and feed Idaho families, if we manage it well. 

As we sat in silence surrounded by sagebrush on the hunt, the autumn sun brought us light golden hues and sweet smells. It was an unseasonably warm day, and many elk were still in the high country above 9,000’ – an occurrence growing  more common as climate change continues. As I watched a cow moose and her calf grazing under the nearby willows, my husband called elk from a neighboring drainage, waiting for one to emerge from the shaded forest. Although we stayed silent, the landscape did not – the sweet songs of robins, pygmy nuthatches, mountain chickadees, and Clark’s nutcrackers filled the sky.

Being in wild places like this isn’t new to me – I’m a lifelong public lands enthusiast. But in my mid-twenties, my relationship with land and wildlife deepened in a different way. As a meat eater, I desired to become more self-sufficient with my meat consumption by becoming a hunter. This journey not only deepened my connection to the land but also with my husband, as his guidance for me to become a conservation-focused hunter was a bonding experience. Conservation has now become even more a part of my being, and wildlife habitat management has become a passion.

Stevie Gawryluk and her husband Andrew on an elk hunt in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Conservation efforts are key to ensuring that the hunting opportunities I have today are available for hunters in the future. On a personal level, hunters need to have science-based conservation at the forefront of their minds. I do this by hunting lead-free, selecting Game Management Units where my intended species are at or above management levels, dedicating time to practicing and learning, and engaging with land and wildlife managing agencies. Volunteering to improve our ecosystems can also help – I volunteer through  ambassadorships with Artemis Sportswomen (a project of the National Wildlife Federation) and Sporting Lead-Free. Through my commitment and volunteer work for wildlife conservation, I know I do everything I can to ensure I hunt ethically and have a healthy relationship with the land. However, no matter how much hunters do on a personal level, so much of wildlife and land conservation falls into the hands of governing agencies. Because of this, paying attention to forest and land management planning is essential.

The animals I rely on for sustenance need intact and thriving habitats to survive and thrive. But they face a lot of issues. Climate change is changing landscapes. Overdevelopment and resource extraction is leading to habitat fragmentation and destruction. Recreationists are leaving trash and not recreating responsibly. But with the bad, there is good. Many organizations, such as the Idaho Conservation League, are working diligently to protect land with critical, age-old migration corridors and summer and winter ranges for pronghorn, mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk. There are efforts to reverse the wrongs of the past by creating habitat in overly-developed areas so animals and humans can coexist. Still, there must be places where wildlife comes first. Places like the vast Salmon-Challis National Forests provide just that, and the public, hunters or not, must remain vigilant and active in forest planning and management if we want these experiences to persist for our children and grandchildren. 

Without public lands like the Salmon-Challis National Forest, central Idaho would not be the same. And without thriving wildlife and wild spaces, neither would Idaho.

If you want more information to plan your next Idaho adventure, or to stay updated on Idaho’s public lands – sign up for ICL’s public lands emails.