Featured Wilderness: The Remarkable Mallard-Larkins

Mallard-Larkins 400px; Meghan BrownNorth Central Idaho is home to an outstanding natural area known as Mallard-Larkins. The campaign to protect it is older than the Wilderness Act itself. Local citizens came together in the 1950s to propose to the Forest Service that this stretch of Idaho wilderness be protected from development. By 1969 the Forest Service agreed, beginning administrative protection for the area.

Stretching between the drainages of the St. Joe's and North Fork Clearwater rivers are the jagged rocky peaks and high mountain lakes of the Mallard-Larkin Roadless Area, which surrounds the Pioneer Area. At more than 250,000 acres it is the state's third largest roadless area.

As scenic and full of wild character as many places are across the American West, few can claim to have such widespread popular support for protection over five decades. If you have the good fortune to visit the Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area you'll know why.

Nestled in around the many 6,000-foot-plus peaks are 38 fairly pristine alpine lakes. Most of the lakes historically did not hold trout populations, but Idaho Fish and Game has stocked many of them for decades primarily with rainbow and cutthroat trout. Streams flowing through the roadless area still hold populations of threatened native bull trout; unfortunately, the Chinook and steelhead salmon that once swam from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the waters of the Mallard-Larkins are long gone.

The slopes and meadows of Mallard-Larkins are alive with many species of big game such as bear, elk, mountain lion, and mountain goat. The healthy size of the resident moose, it is said, rivals those seen in Alaska. The mountain goat population is so robust that it's used as a source for transplants to other parts of the state. While the issue of wolf reintroduction and management remains controversial in Idaho, the wild nature of the Mallard-Larkins ecosystem can be illustrated by the numerous healthy wolf packs that roam its high ridges and forested valleys.

The Hikes

A number of trails cut through the expansive roadless area and are excellent avenues to a variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, and snowshoeing. Jumping off points for access to the Mallard-Larkins are primarily through the small Idaho towns of Orofino and St. Maries. Specific directions to trailheads can be found under the “Access” section.

The Future

Despite the high level of support for protection, the push to permanently protect this area as wilderness continues. The Clearwater Basin Collaborative, a consensus-based group of conservationists, recreation interests, timber companies, and sportsmen, is currently working with the Idaho congressional delegation on a proposal that would include protection of the Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area. With hard work and a little luck, this incredibly wild place will soon get the protection it so richly deserves.