A coalition of environmental groups filed arguments last week before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Portland in an ongoing effort to repeal the Idaho roadless rule and replace it with one adopted under President Bill Clinton.
The Wilderness Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend the Idaho rule, crafted in a collaborative effort led by former Gov. Jim Risch, is weaker than the 2001 rule that is now in force on most national forests outside of Idaho.
“The Clinton rule simply provides better uniform protection across the state than what the Idaho rule does,” said Craig Gehrke, regional director for the Wilderness Society at Boise.
There are about 9 million acres of roadless forests in Idaho. The Idaho rule affords stronger protections than the 2001 rule on about 3.2 million acres where no logging and road building is allowed, but it does permit limited logging on 5.3 million acres only if it is related to efforts aimed at reducing wildfires.
The Idaho rule also stripped about 400,000 acres from roadless status and opened those acres up to consideration for things like mining and logging.
Gehrke said the Idaho rule weakens protections for woodland caribou and grizzly bears in the Idaho Panhandle and the provision that allows logging to reduce fire danger puts Idaho roadless areas at far more risk of development than roadless areas in other states.
“They basically tried to sell the public that adding these new road-building exceptions wasn’t going to change anything. We don’t think that makes any sense and don’t think that was a fair way to present the rule to the public,” said Tim Preso, an attorney from the environmental law firm EarthJustice, which is representing the coalition.
Two environmental groups disagree. The Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited both support the Idaho rule and have said its protections are essentially equal to the Clinton-era rule but are more accepted because the rule was collaboratively written.
The Clinton rule faced several court challenges but was ultimately upheld by multiple appeals courts. Like Idaho, Colorado has a state-crafted rule that protects roadless forests within its borders.