Krista Schlyer reports from the Clearwater Basin Expedition

A smoky haze permeates the air above the Bitterroot Mountains in Idaho, making for a hazy view from Chris Boyer’s Cessna 170. But even so, many things become clear when viewing the Clearwater Basin from above. This region is home to one of the largest roadless areas left in the continental US, hundreds of thousands of acres of undisturbed wilderness, much of it with a forest cover of ancient cedar, ponderosa pine and spruce. The fog that flows through canyons on cool autumn mornings illustrates the critical role this wilderness plays in maintaining clean water and air for this region. Sprawling forests burned to bony white trunks evidence the prevalence of fire on this landscape. And the scars of clearcut forests and timber roads carving a patchwork of bare ground in the mountain earth show the tremendous pressure on this wilderness to feed the local timber economy.

In the Clearwater a struggle has been waged for decades between those who want to protect the wilderness, and those who want access to its trees. Over the past decade, this struggle has morphed into an intense collaborative effort between industry and local communities–including the Nez Perce tribe–and conservationists. The acreage of wilderness proposed in the 1970s has been shaved down to accommodate timber and off-road vehicle interests, but a large core of 300,000 acres has been agreed upon by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative. Now comes the final hard push to make sure the deal–which also expands the access of timber interests–will protect some of the country’s last great roadless wild.

I’ll be working with photographer Amy Gulick, the International League of Conservation Photographers, The Wilderness Society and Lighthawk to document the region and help people understand all that is at stake.