September 16, 2006 in Idaho

Risch set to unveil new plan for roadless forests

John Miller Associated Press

BOISE – Gov. Jim Risch says he knows he won’t please everybody with his proposed changes to federal management plans for Idaho’s 9.3 million acres of roadless national forests.

The state’s petition to the U.S. Forest Service is due to be unveiled Wednesday, after months of public meetings and rancor.

“If you’re looking for something to be happy about, you’ll find it,” Risch said this week. “If you’re looking for something to be unhappy about, you’ll find it. That’s just the nature of things.”

Environmentalists and outdoor recreation groups agree, saying they’ve been leaked details of the plan and fear the governor will allow road-building and logging in sensitive forest areas, including old-growth trees.

Idaho would be the first state in the nation to petition to develop its roadless areas, they said.

“We’d like to be optimistic right now, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, of the Idaho Conservation League.

Risch has expressed concern that existing national forest management policies have added to fire danger, and says changes could improve the forests’ health.

Mark Rey, the Forest Service’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, may attend next week’s unveiling of Risch’s proposals, Risch spokesman Brad Hoaglun said. Rey’s agency must sign off on Idaho’s petition before any changes take effect.

The Bush administration in May 2005 passed a rule replacing former President Clinton’s mandate to shield the nation’s 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas from road-building and most logging.

Bush allowed governors to petition to protect roadless areas, nullify land-use plans that stopped development and management, or have the Forest Service create new plans.

Five states, including California and New Mexico, have filed petitions to keep logging out of roadless areas, and Oregon is expected to follow suit. Four Western states, including Washington, have sued to overturn the current process and restore Clinton’s rule.

Idaho’s petition is the result of expert analysis and hundreds of public comments, Risch said, without offering specifics. It accommodates the proposal by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, now in the U.S. Senate, to carve out 315,000 acres of federal wilderness in Idaho’s Boulder and White Cloud mountains, he added.

Jim Caswell, director of Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation, said the petition will include only moderate changes to management plans now in place for Idaho’s national forests. The petition takes into account existing forest management plans, recommendations from counties and the public, and federal environmental rules, Caswell said.

“We don’t want to get into a (national Environmental Policy Act) war,” he said, referring to the 1969 law that requires federal land managers to consider environmental values in their decisions.

Some groups, including The Wilderness Society and Idaho Conservation League, contend that public meetings on Idaho’s petition were a sham because they took place only in smaller rural counties, not in Ada and Canyon counties where most of Idaho’s population lives.

These groups also say those responsible for summarizing public comments had ties to anti-roadless business interests including J.R. Simplot Co. and timber companies Boise Cascade and Potlatch Corp. That may have skewed their conclusions, Oppenheimer said.

Environmentalists say the petition could open up more than half Idaho’s existing roadless areas to construction and logging, based on details they say have been leaked to them.

“We expect the governor to do what he can to access our last remaining old-growth forests for logging,” said Brad Brooks, of The Wilderness Society. “We will do everything it takes to stop this, to ensure that every last acre of roadless area in Idaho is protected.”

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