West of Smith’s Ferry lies Sage Hen Reservoir, a family-friendly recreation area full of towering trees, native plants and wildflowers, fish, wildlife, and birds. Idaho Conservation League staff and supporters traveled to this special place to get a first-hand look at the impact of the Boise National Forest’s project to log trees and manage these public lands.
Based on the current plan, Forest Service officials appear to have cut several corners and decided to disregard key opportunities for public input to shape this project into a model for forest restoration.
As we arrived at the reservoir, I watched a hooded merganser bob in the water while huge ponderosa pines swayed above. The red bark of these pines has a vanilla-like smell; soon we stuck our noses in the trees and absorbed the sweet aroma. We also saw hooded mergansers, eared grebes, Barrow’s goldeneye, Western Tanagers, and heard the raucous calls of a pileated woodpecker.
In the distance, adjacent to Sage Hen, lies the Snowbank Inventoried Roadless Area with stands of old-growth trees, high mountain peaks, and streams that support rainbow trout and threatened bull trout.
Recent logging of unhealthy or potentially hazardous trees has made some portions of the Sage Hen landscape look a bit rough. The targeted trees were infested with Douglas-fir tussock moths or were growing in hazardous locations along roadsides and in campgrounds. Thankfully, plenty of shade remains as loggers retained most of them.
Plans for more logging and burning
Forest Service officials, though, recently approved plans for more extensive logging on 20,000 acres in the Sage Hen area, along with prescribed burning across some 67,000 acres to reduce hazardous fuels. We drove past dense forests – easy fuel for wildfires – so the thinning and burning project would result in less fire risk and could increase forest health by providing the remaining large trees with more water, increasing resilience to threats of insects and disease.
Although the project would provide benefits, the Forest Service appears to have fast-tracked the plan, ignoring key opportunities for more public input and ways to protect the area. ICL continues to encourage agency officials to allow more public comment and discussion of other options. Compared to the most recent timber sale, we would like to see increased protections for large diameter trees. We would also like additional watershed restoration components. If the Forest Service were to take the time to properly craft the plan, the Sage Hen project could be a model for forest restoration.
As we finished our day of hiking that was also filled with catching frogs and learning about native plant species, I reflected on my newfound appreciation of the Sage Hen area. As we finished our day of hiking that was also filled with catching frogs and learning about native plant species, I reflected on my newfound appreciation of the Sage Hen area. Just one day in this beautiful landscape convinced me that this area is worth protecting and is a microcosm of what makes Idaho special.
– Amanda Grimsted is a Boise State University Andrus Scholar interning this summer at the Idaho Conservation League.
Tips For Visiting!
Bring binoculars for bird watching and keep an eye out for frogs and toads. Unfortunately, not all Sage Hen visitors follow “leave no trace” practices, so please bring an extra bag to pick up trash from campsites, roadsides, and fire pits. On our visit, we noticed that previous campers built dams in creeks – this can create real problems for trout (plus degrading habitat for bull trout is illegal!). Please refrain from modifying streams and pass the word on to others.
From the Treasure Valley, take State Highway 55 North toward McCall. At about 50 miles and before the Cougar Mountain Lodge, turn left onto Forest Service Road 644. Continue straight onto Forest Road 626 (Cabarton High Valley Road) for about 12 miles. Turn right onto Forest Road 614 for about 2 miles. Turn left onto Forest Road 614 G to Sage Hen Reservoir.
Sage Hen Reservoir includes hiking and mountain biking trails, a boat dock and ramp, as well as several campgrounds.
Check with the Emmett Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use map and the Boise National Forest map for open trails and roads in the area.