June 25, 1997 in Idaho

Backcountry Road Closures Helpful To People And Wildlife

James A. Hayden And Wayne L. Wakkinen Special To Roundtable
 

In a recent guest column, ex-Gov. Don W. Samuelson railed against backcountry road closures as being counterproductive to the health of the Panhandle’s grizzlies and an unnecessary burden on users of areas closed to motor vehicles.

Contrary to Samuelson’s contentions, grizzlies have been struggling in the Selkirks for many years. They were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1975. The Idaho Fish and Game Department began active research on the Selkirk grizzlies 10 years later. An unhealthy grizzly population prompted research. It was not the other way around.

From 1940 to the start of the grizzly project, there were more than 25 grizzly deaths in the Selkirk ecosystem, which also includes parts of Washington and British Columbia. With the project, we have been much more effective in detecting when and under what circumstances a death has occurred. The project also has been of great assistance in catching grizzly poachers.

Incidentally, there have been no deaths of grizzlies in the Selkirks due to research or management.

Road management has done a good job for grizzlies in the Selkirks. Because of the closures, the grizzly population has stabilized, with the potential for additional recovery.

Samuelson complained about areas being “locked up” to study grizzly bears and other species. All areas are open for public use. There’s still plenty of motorized access available, too. In the Bonners Ferry Forest Service District alone, there are about 900 miles of forest roads and 600 miles are open to unrestricted motorized access.

Road closures benefit not just grizzlies but also most other wildlife species. Elk and deer hunters enjoy the high-quality hunting that is created by a closed road and the longer hunting seasons that are made possible.

Road closures also are needed when budgets are too small to maintain roads, to protect soft roadbeds from wet weather and to prevent erosion. These closures also provide for a quiet outdoor experience for those who wish to have one. This is a commodity of limited quantity in the era of four-wheel-drives, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles.

Only 108 years ago, Idaho was just a remote territory with few people and almost no roads. The Panhandle is predicted to grow from 157,000 people to 400,000 in the next 20 years. Along with more people comes more pressure on our wildlife.

You have asked the Idaho Fish and Game Department to help look out for your wildlife since 1938. Road management is an important tool to help us do that for you.

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