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March 20, 2009

Backcountry Specialist - An Interview with Francie St. Onge of Sun Valley Trekking

Francie St. Onge Portrait by Sun Valley Trekking

Francie St. Onge has guided wilderness expeditions throughout the inter-mountain west and Alaska.
(Photo: Sun Valley Trekking)

Interview with Francie St. Onge, from Sun Valley trekking, a group that leads backcountry trips in the midwest, Alaska, and Chile.

Bio: Francie St. Onge hails originally from Minnesota, where some say she skied out of the womb. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Forestry-Resource Conservation at the University of Montana in 1995. Since then, she has guided wilderness expeditions throughout the inter-mountain west and Alaska, Co-founded a winter environmental education program in Crested Butte, Colorado, and worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park. Francie completed an MS degree in Recreation Resources-Environmental Education at Utah State University. Chief guide for SVT’s Chix programs.

How long have you been an outfitter/How long have you been running Sun Valley Trekking?

My husband Joe and I took over Sun Valley Trekking in December of 2000, so we are in our ninth season.  Sun Valley Trekking was started in 1982, so our backcountry hut system has been in place for over 25 years.

What other places do you travel to with Sun Valley Trekking?

Sun Valley Trekking operates 6 backcountry huts and yurts in Idaho, as well as does quite a lot of local guiding. We also operate in Yellowstone National Park, offering mulit-day sea-kayaking trips on the lakes, and backpacking trips. We also run ski expeditions in the St. Elias Range of Alaska, and Chile.

Why did you decide to settle in Idaho?

We have lived all up and down the Rocky Mountain states, but when we hit Idaho we realized we could spend out whole lives here and never see it all. We also moved here for the purpose of taking over Sun Valley Trekking.

Ridgetop view

The wolf tour participants near the summit of Butterfield Mountains, with the Boulder Mountains in the background.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

What is your background with wolves?

Wolves have been a life-long interest. But specifically I worked as a naturalist in Denali National Park, giving educational programs on wolves and predator-predator interactions. I also had the good fortune to be able to accompany a biologist in the Park to assist in behavioral research on the Park wolves.

The wolves of Yellowstone have become famous, and there are great viewing opportunities to be had there. Could Idaho have similar opportunities to view wolves?

We do not have a viewing resource like the Lamar Valley, but when wolves are “in the neighborhood” it is possible to see them, and their “signs”, not too far off the road.  So far, we have had several sightings on our trips.  So, I believe Idaho is our best option to be able to see wolves in the wild.

Wolf tracks

Wolf Tracks: evidence that wolves were here last night.

(Photo: Jesse Timberlake)

Do you see the fledgling wolf tourism industry growing in Idaho?

Yes. Provided there are areas available to view wolves that provide adequate habitat, and an adequate population of wolves.

In what ways have you observed wolves benefiting the area since their re-introduction?

I have had guests specifically request to learn about wolves, so I believe it could be a draw for visitors to our area who are interested in viewing and learning about wildlife.  So, since recreation is an important source of income for Idaho, I believe the presence of wolves could help our economy.  Wolves also serve a very important ecological role as a wildlife species.  Having the historic and natural big predators helps to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.  Maintaining an intact ecosystem is an important objective for our land managers, and for any area.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

Nope!

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