Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Wildlife Viewing

More than 300 species of wildlife inhabit the forests, valleys and rocky peaks of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Mule deer, coyote, fox, chipmunk and squirrel, Clark's nutcracker, junco and chickadees are likely to be seen. Other animals like black bear, beaver, elk, sandhill crane and golden eagle are more elusive.

Seeing a wild animal in its natural setting can be one of the greatest thrills during a visit to SNRA. Look for animals in the early morning and evening, when they're most active. But remember, they are wild animals and even a chipmunk can inflict a vicious bite when trying to protect her young.

Perhaps the best way to see wildlife is to hold still and be quiet. It may take a few minutes, but eventually nearby birds and other animals will resume what they were doing before being disturbed.

Binoculars are highly recommended because they provide a close-up view of wildlife without either disturbing the animals or endangering the viewer.

A good place to see birds and larger animals is near streams and lakes. In the arid climate of central Idaho, water is vital, and the lush vegetation nearby provides food and cover. You'll also see these animals where one kind of habitat borders another, such as where a forest meets a meadow or a sagebrush slope meets a grove of aspen.

Dead trees, called snags, are great places to look for hawks and eagles, which often perch on the bare branches. Woodpeckers are often heard and sometimes seen excavating nesting holes in the trunks. Woodpeckers later abandon these cavities, which then provide nesting sites for other birds and protection for small animals.

The SNRA has many good areas for viewing wildlife. On the drive to Galena Summit, look for beaver ponds along both sides of the road. Sometimes the white dots of mountain goats can be seen in the high peaks of the Boulder Mountains. Or try the new Stanley Creek Wildlife Interpretive Area. Deer, elk, coyotes, and sandhill cranes all inhabit the meadows of the Sawtooth Valley and areas west of Stanley.

To aid wildlife viewing, pick up a copy of the Wildlife Viewing Guide or the Birds of the Sawtooth NRA at any of our Visitor Centers or area businesses.

The Bluebird of Happiness
Idaho's state bird is the Mountain Bluebird, which returns to the high mountains each spring to mate and raise its young. The beautiful clear blue color of the male is very distinctive. He and the grayer female are frequently seen perched on fenceposts, which parallel Highway 75, in the Sawtooth Valley.

Idaho's Endangered Salmon
The migratory salmon of the Snake River are one of the world's great natural wonders. It seems strange that a seagoing fish would make its home here in the SNRA, some 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean, but this is where life begins and ends for these salmon.

In the freshwater lakes and streams of the area, female adult salmon lay their eggs on the lake or stream bottoms and allow waiting males to fertilize them. Their job done, the adults die, their decomposing bodies providing nutrients for the eggs and young fish.

In this aquatic nursery, the eggs transform into tiny fish that live for a year or two in this area. In time, due to maturing and other natural cues, the young salmon become restless and head down stream.

The minnow-sized fish enter the swift spring current and allow themselves to be carried down stream to begin their 900-mile journey down the Salmon, Snake and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific Ocean. The salmon that survive the trip to the ocean find fertile feeding grounds there, roaming as far north as Alaska and as far south as northern California.

After spending two to three years maturing in the ocean, nature prompts the salmon to return in great spawning migrations to their freshwater birthplaces to reproduce and die, beginning the cycle once again.

Historically, thousands of salmon completed the long journey back to their home waters in Idaho each year to spawn, but now only a handful survive the trip.

Hydroelectric dams, intense commercial fishing, historic cattle grazing near sensitive habitat and increased recreational activities have all contributed to the decline of the salmon and their struggle for survival. Idaho's Snake River sockeye and chinook salmon are listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Extinction looms as a very real possibility for these fish.

The SNRA plays an important role in the re-establishment of salmon populations to Idaho's waterways. Redfish Lake is the only known lake where sockeye salmon spawning presently occurs in Idaho. The headwaters of the Salmon River provide important habitat for the chinook salmon.

The obstacles to salmon recovery are great, and success will come only through cooperation among managers, state agencies, hydropower operators, commercial fishermen and the public.

What's a Redd?
Redds are nests on lake and stream bottoms, dug by female salmon to hold their eggs once the eggs are laid in late summer and fall. The salmon turns on her side and flaps her tail vigorously, making a depression in the gravel. When the nest is finished, she fills it with pea-sized eggs. Each nest holds several hundred of the pink or red eggs, which are then fertilized by male salmon. The female covers the nest with gravel thrown up when she digs the next nest a foot or two away. The eggs stay in the nest all winter and hatch in the spring, continuing the salmon's amazing life cycle. Clean, undisturbed redds are essential to salmon survival! Please protect stream and lake banks and bottoms, and give the salmon a fighting chance.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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