Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness

Coordinates: 45°3′55″N 114°57′16″W / 45.06528°N 114.95444°W / 45.06528; -114.95444
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Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness
Map showing the location of Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness
Map showing the location of Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness
LocationIdaho / Valley / Lemhi / Custer counties, Idaho, U.S.
Nearest cityYellow Pine, Idaho
Coordinates45°3′55″N 114°57′16″W / 45.06528°N 114.95444°W / 45.06528; -114.95444
Area2,366,827 acres (9,578.21 km2)
EstablishedJanuary 1, 1980 (1980-01-01)
Governing bodyU.S. Forest Service
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Map of Idaho showing location of the
Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness

The Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area is a protected wilderness area in Idaho.[2] It was created in 1980 by the United States Congress and renamed in 1984 as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in honor of U.S. Senator Frank Church.

At 2.367 million acres (9,580 km2), it is the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska. The Death Valley Wilderness is the largest single designated area but consists of numerous disconnected units.[3][4] The wilderness protects several mountain ranges, extensive wildlife, and a popular whitewater rafting river: the Salmon River.


Together with the adjacent Gospel Hump Wilderness and surrounding unprotected roadless Forest Service land, it is the core of a 3.3 million acre (13,000 km2) roadless area.[5] It is separated from the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, to the north, by a single dirt road (the Magruder Corridor).[5] The wilderness contains parts of several mountain ranges, including the Salmon River Mountains, the Clearwater Mountains, and the Bighorn Crags. The ranges are split by steep canyons of the Middle and Main forks of the Salmon River.[5] The Salmon River is a popular destination for whitewater rafting,[5] and is known as the "River of No Return" for its swift current and large rapids which make upstream travel difficult.[6] Most of the area is covered by coniferous forests, with dry, open land along the rivers at lower elevations.[5]

While designation as a wilderness area in the United States generally requires the prohibition of any motorized machinery, the use of jetboats (On the Main Fork of the Salmon River) and 26 airstrips are permitted in this wilderness as grandfathered existing uses before the wilderness was designated.[5][7]

National forests[edit]

The Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness is located in six different national forests plus a relatively tiny portion of land of the Bureau of Land Management, more components than any other wilderness. In descending order of acreage they are:[8]


In 1931, 1,090,000 acres (4,400 km2) in Central Idaho were declared by the U.S. Forest Service as The Idaho Primitive Area. In 1963, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness was split into three parts: The Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive area, and the Magruder Corridor—the land between the two areas.

Frank Church was the Senate floor sponsor for the Wilderness Act of 1964, which protected 9 million acres (36,000 km2) of United States land as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1968, he introduced the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which included the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, so that rivers "shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations."

Church's environmental legislation culminated in 1980 with the passage of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act. The act created the River of No Return Wilderness by combining the Idaho Primitive Area, the Salmon River Breaks Primitive Area, and a portion of the Magruder Corridor.[5] The Act also added 125 miles (200 km) of the Salmon River to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. President Carter had taken his family on a three-day float trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in August 1978, accompanied by Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus,[9] the former (and future) Idaho governor. The administration forwarded a central Idaho wilderness proposal to Congress later that year[10] and Carter signed the final act on July 23, 1980.[11] In January 1984, Congress honored Senator Church, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, by renaming the area The Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. Idaho Senator Jim McClure introduced the measure in the Senate in late February,[12] and President Reagan signed the act on March 14,[13] less than four weeks before Church's death on April 7 at age 59.[14][15]


Because of its size the wilderness area provides a secluded habitat for a wide variety of mammal species, including some rare, vulnerable species. The wilderness is inhabited by a large population of mountain lions and grey wolves. Populations of black bears, as well as lynx, coyote, and red fox are scattered throughout the area. Other observable ruminant wildlife within the wilderness include bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose, mule deer, and white tail deer. While this area has been deemed as one of the few remaining areas in the contiguous states with suitable habitat for grizzly bears, no established populations are known to exist. The wilderness also offers some of the most critical habitat for wolverines in the lower 48 states. Beavers that were parachuted into the area (Beaver drop) from Idaho (in 1948) have established a healthy colony here.[16]

Wolves once ranged throughout nearly all of Idaho but by 1930 became locally extinct from shooting, trapping and poisoning.[17] After they were nearly wiped out in the lower 48 states, wolves in Idaho were declared endangered in 1974 under the Endangered Species Act.[18] In 1995, wolves from Canada were reintroduced here due to the remote location, the availability of prey and the area being under federal jurisdiction.[19] In the same year, wolves were also released in Yellowstone National Park.[20] By the next year, three packs were identified and the first pups were observed.[21] By 1998, there were at least 10 breeding pairs which was one component of the recovery project. In compliance with a rider attached to a Senate budget bill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves in Idaho and Montana from the endangered species list in 2011.[22]


On August 7, 2013, a retired sheriff and three other horseback riders in the rugged back country encountered Hannah Anderson and her abductor, James DiMaggio. FBI agents rescued Anderson and killed DiMaggio near Morehead Lake on August 10.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frank Church - River of No Return". Protected Planet. Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  2. ^ a b "Maps | Data Basin". Retrieved 2018-12-29.
  3. ^ "Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  4. ^ " search page". Archived from the original on 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2011-12-25.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness". Archived from the original on 2011-12-29. Retrieved 2011-12-25.
  6. ^ Allsop, Dani (February 6, 2020). "How the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area earned its name". KTVB. Retrieved 2021-09-06.
  7. ^ Siegler, Kirk (September 23, 2023). "A lawsuit is challenging the vast number of airstrips in Idaho's protected wilderness". NPR News.
  8. ^ "Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness acreage breakdown". Archived from the original on 2013-07-29. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  9. ^ "Carter: he may get wet, but he won't starve". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. August 23, 1978. p. 1.
  10. ^ "Idaho wilderness area proposed". Tri-City Herald. Associated Press. December 21, 1978. p. 30.
  11. ^ "President signs bill establishing Idaho wilderness". Eugene Register-Guard. UPI. July 23, 1980. p. 5A.
  12. ^ "Idaho acts to rename area after Frank Church". Deseret News. UPI. February 28, 1984. p. 10B.
  13. ^ "Reagan signs bill naming area after Frank Church". Spokane Chronicle. Associated Press. March 15, 1984. p. 3.
  14. ^ "Idaho ex-Sen. Frank Church dies of cancer". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. April 8, 1984. p. 1.
  15. ^ "Frank Church dies of cancer". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (from The Washington Post). April 8, 1984. p. 1.
  16. ^ Wright, Samantha (2015-01-14). "Parachuting Beavers Into Idaho's Wilderness? Yes, It Really Happened". Boise State Public Radio. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  17. ^ Kaminski, Timmothy J (October 1998). Zoogeography of Gray Wolves (Canis lupus ) in Idaho: A Historical Review (Thesis). University of Montana – via ScholarWorks.
  18. ^ "Wolf Management Background". Idaho Fish and Game.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  19. ^ Stuebner, Steve (October 28, 2019). "Wolf reintroduction to Idaho creates conflict". Post Register. Retrieved 2021-09-05.
  20. ^ French, Brett (January 22, 2020). "25 years later: Politics, myths and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone". Idaho State Journal. Retrieved 2021-09-05.
  21. ^ "Wolf Management / Status Timeline". Idaho Fish and Game. 18 February 2016. Retrieved 2021-09-05.
  22. ^ Cohen, Rachel (January 14, 2020). "25 Years Ago, Wolves Were Reintroduced To Idaho". Boise State Public Radio News.
  23. ^ Dvorak, Todd (12 August 2013). "Man suspected of abducting 16-year-old girl shot rifle once or twice during rescue". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 13 August 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dant, Sara (May 2008). "Making Wilderness Work: Frank Church and the American Wilderness Movement". Pacific Historical Review. 77 (2): 237–272. doi:10.1525/phr.2008.77.2.237.

External links[edit]