History of Craig Mountain WMA

History

Craig Mountain WMA has been the site of human occupation for thousands of years. Many sites of historic human occupation have been discovered on the Craig Mountain WMA. All are legally protected. 

European settlers arrived and homesteaded the area early in the twentieth century. Most settlers arrived on Craig Mountain WMA lands during 1905-1920, although miners had searched the area for gold as early as about 1860. Two of the prominent settlement areas included Zaza and Benton Meadows. 

The Zaza area was first settled in 1909 when the General Land Office (now the BLM) issued patents to homesteaders under the 1862 Homestead Act. Within 10 years, most of the section encompassing Zaza was in private ownership. Zaza was not actually a town but was rather a collection of farmsteads, named in order to start a post office. The post office was established in 1916, but was disbanded in 1919 with the mail being sent to nearby Waha. A small store and hotel existed at Zaza, and for many years, Zaza was a stagecoach stop on the route between Lewiston and Grangeville. Today, only remnants of log homes stand in Zaza. The main reasons for settling this area were mining, logging, and cattle ranching. Mining failed for the simple reason that there were few mineral deposits worth developing. Logging ceased because there was no market for timber. Only ranching continued in the area. 

Historically, Benton Meadows was a location used by Native Americans. Artifacts from the area indicate that human settlements existed there at least 10,000 years ago. Benton Meadows was named for Henry L. Benton, who first acquired 160 acres from the General Land Office in 1908. Later, he added another 160 acres adjoining the first property. More recently, the meadow was used as a cow camp, where ranchers based themselves for summer cattle operations on Craig Mountain. 

In 1909, the Craig Mountain Lumber Company opened a saw mill in the area now known as Winchester, Idaho. At that time, this was one of the largest mills in northern Idaho with 270 employees and capable of processing 120,000 board feet/day. The mill was subsequently sold twice, first to the Hallack and Howard Lumber Company in 1950, and Boise-Cascade in 1960, before being closed in 1965. 

By the late 1930s, most of the homesteads on Craig Mountain were abandoned. From the 1930s through the 1970s, the “Howard Ranch” was pieced together, parcel by parcel, by Ross and Nelson Howard, during which time the major land uses were livestock grazing accompanied by periodic timber harvest. The Howard Ranch was purchased by PENE Land Co. in 1984. PENE Land Co. (financed primarily by Aetna Life Insurance Co.), acquired the property as an investment in the timber and livestock industries. Under PENE Land Co. management, the area was intensively logged and grazed during the years 1985-1988. PENE Land Co. failed to meet its financial obligations to Aetna. In 1989, Aetna foreclosed on PENE Land Co., retaining ownership of approximately 60,000 acres. Logging ceased but intensive livestock grazing continued under Aetna management. In early 1992, The Conservation Fund, a private non-profit organization, purchased the property from Aetna. After completing a land trade with The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund sold the property to Bonneville Power Administration. Upon acquisition, BPA removed livestock grazing from the entire mitigation unit in order to reduce disturbance and preserve the mitigation potential of the area. Acquisition of the property by BPA brought the Craig Mountain WMA into public ownership for the first time since prior to the area being homesteaded in the early 1900s. 

The Peter T. Johnson Wildlife Mitigation Unit was selected as a site for wildlife mitigation associated with Dworshak Reservoir because it lies in relatively close proximity to the area of habitat losses, most of the state’s mitigation responsibilities could be accomplished in one location, and because these lands included a number of diverse wildlife habitats within a relatively small area. It was believed that a change in management emphasis could greatly improve wildlife habitat and the associated wildlife populations on the area. Also, because the northern extent of the Craig Mountain WMA lies within 10 miles of the city of Lewiston, Idaho’s seventh largest population center, the Craig Mountain WMA has high recreation potential. Bringing the mitigation unit into public ownership assured public recreational use of the area, most of which was unauthorized while in private ownership. 

The Billy Creek Unit is comprised of four major acquisitions occurring between 1971 and 1997. The largest of these entailed acquisition of the Burdette Prince Ranch in 1978, which totaled over 11,500 acres. This ranch, along with the other three acquisitions, was also managed primarily for livestock grazing with limited timber harvest while in private ownership. Since the first parcel was acquired in 1971, Idaho Fish and Game has managed the area, and each subsequent acquisition, for the benefit of wildlife and public recreation. Until a few years ago, access to the Billy Creek Unit was limited to crossing the Snake River from the Washington side by boat. In recent years, the Department, in cooperation with the BLM, have acquired public road access through private land in three locations to allow visitors to reach the area by motorized vehicle. 

In 1996, the department combined management of the Billy Creek Unit and Peter T. Johnson Wildlife Mitigation Unit because of the similarity in resources and habitats present and the philosophy the department wishes to employ in their management.