Sawtooth National Forest

Sawtooth National Forest is a United States national forest that is located in the state of Idaho. It contains 2,102,461 acres of protected land that is separated into four sections known as the Fairfield Ranger District, the Minidoka Ranger District, the Ketchum Ranger District, and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The area was first designated as the Sawtooth Forest Reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, but was given its current name and status after several land additions, including the addition of Minidoka National Forest lands in 1953. The forest holds one designated wilderness area known as Sawtooth Wilderness, but many other areas have been proposed as designated wildernesses.

The land in Sawtooth National Forest was once inhabited by Paleo-Indians, with evidence showing that the earliest inhabitants could have resided there nearly twelve thousand years ago. In modern times, Native American tribes inhabited the area, including the Shoshone tribe, the Northern Paiute tribe, and the Bannock tribe. By the nineteenth century trappers, explorers, and settlers began moving into the area, establishing routes for travelers including the Oregon Trail. The land would be used for logging, mining, and farming over the years and would eventually hold several settlements including Ketchum City and Sawtooth City.

Elevations in Sawtooth National Forest range between 4,514 and 12,009 feet at the highest point of the forest, known as Hyndman Peak. The major geological formations in the forest are the Sawtooth Mountains, which have over fifty peaks that reach an elevation of over ten thousand feet. Other mountain ranges and peaks in the area include the Black Pine Mountains, the Pioneer Mountains, and the White Cloud Mountains. This forest contains 1,100 lakes, most of which have formed due to glaciation, and about 7,500 miles of streams and rivers that are both temporary and permanent. These waterways include Snake River, Salmon River, Redfish Lake, Sawtooth Lake, and the Great Salt Lake.

The climate of Sawtooth National Forest depends upon the elevation, with areas at lower elevations receiving less rainfall than areas at higher elevations. A large portion of the forest only receives fifteen inches of rain per year, but snowfall during the winter provides rivers with enough water to flow throughout the year.

Forty-seven percent of the land in Sawtooth National Forest actually holds trees and three percent of land that is capable of holding trees does not. Forested areas occur mainly at higher elevations and contain numerous species including pines, willows, and cottonwoods as well as vegetation types that are able to withstand cold temperatures like forbs. Lower elevations contain large amounts of Ponderosa pine and small plants including common snowberry plants and bluebunch wheatgrass. The Minidoka District is distinct from other areas of forest due to its plains habitat, which contains plants like the Rocky Mountain juniper, cacti species, and pinyon-juniper woodlands. The forest also contains non-native invasive species including yellow starthistle, leafy spurge, and cheatgrass.

Sawtooth national Forest is home to a variety of animal life including 243 bird species, 78 mammal species, 29 fish species, and 28 species of reptile and amphibian. Mammal species within the forest include mountain lions, gray wolves, bobcats, elk, pronghorn, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and beavers. The forest once contained grizzly bears, but these are now extinct within the area. The bull trout is often studied by forest management to evaluate the health of the entire forest, due to its specific habitat requirements. Other important fish species in this forest include sockeye salmon, Chinook salmon, and rainbow trout.

Over one million people visit Sawtooth National Forest each year. Visitors can partake in a variety of activities including hiking, backpacking, mountain climbing, rafting, skiing, nature viewing, and camping at over eighty-one campsites located in every district of the forest. Visitors must follow some guidelines within the forest including limiting the number of a group in wilderness areas and partaking in Leave No Trace practices.

Image Caption: Sawtooth Valley in Sawtooth National Recreation Area / Sawtooth National Forest from Galena Summit, Idaho, USA. Credit: Acroterion/Wikipedia  (CC BY-SA 3.0)