At approximately 64,000 acres, the Cove-Mallard Roadless Area is located just north of the Salmon River Breaks, adjoining the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the south and east. In the southern part of this primitive area there is little to no development. Hence, this area may serve as an important biological connecting corridor for migrating wildlife and genetic diversity. Indeed, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and Gospel-Hump Wilderness are connected, making them the single largest protected area of Wilderness in the lower 48 states.
A country filled with rolling hills and an extensive lodgepole pine forest canopy, Cove-Mallard contains pockets of old-growth ponderosa pine, along with mountain meadows and englemann spruce-alpine fir at the higher elevations. The explorer may come across Payson’s milkvetch and candystick, both of which are Region One sensitive plant species.
Like many places in Clearwater Country, this landscape is defined by the waterways that run from the mountains to the river bottoms. In the northern part of the roadless area flows Big Mallard Creek, with it’s bottom reaches entering the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness before it’s confluence with the Wild & Scenic Salmon River. In the south flows Jersey Creek, its headwaters flowing from Jersey Mountain, which unfortunately was not included when boundaries were drawn for the Gospel-Hump Wilderness. Big Blowout Creek and Noble Creek are also prominent streams that drain this heavily wooded and still-wild area.
Wolverine and fisher roam these hills, with northern goshawk, three-toed woodpeckers, and black-backed woodpeckers rounding out the list of Region One sensitive wildlife species found in the roadless area. Rich with big-game summer range, the area offers abundant habitat for deer, elk, and moose, drawing in predators like grey wolves and, potentially, grizzly bears. Bighorn sheep and mountain goats can be found along the southeastern part of the roadless area, near it’s border with the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Cove-Mallard contains important habitat for West-slope cutthroat trout.
Opportunities for solitude, challenge, and reflection are excellent throughout this area. Hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, birding, and wildlife viewing are all compatible with this wildland setting. If planning an extensive backpacking trip, it is possible to start hiking from the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, southwest into Cove-Mallard, south into the Frank Church, and then west across the Cove-Mallard and into the Gospel-Hump Wilderness. For this and other reasons, the Cove-Mallard Roadless Area is a logical addition to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the National Wilderness Preservation System.
While livestock grazing allotments exist in the area, they are currently not used. It is not likely they will be reopened. Four commercial outfitters operate in the area. Cook Ranch and Mallard Creek Ranch, located on the boundary of the roadless country, are private inholdings in the national forest used for recreation purposes. The tiny town of Dixie is located just to the west of the roadless area. A mining boom occurred in the region starting in 1890, with some activity remaining on the boundary of the area. The biggest threat to the area came from the infamous Cove-Mallard timber sales of the 1990s. These sales, which were vigorously resisted by citizens, would have destroyed the entire roadless area. Some of the sales were completed, which reduced the size of the area by about 13,000 acres.
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