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Idaho parks e-mails concern Feds

Thu., Dec. 9, 2010

BOISE – An e-mail exchange between state and federal officials that emerged publicly Wednesday highlights how motorized recreation and wildlife advocates are jockeying for influence in the debate over how best to manage north-central Idaho’s backcountry trails.

Nez Perce National Forest managers are updating rules governing off-highway travel on their 2.2 million acre territory. Their policy is changing from “open unless posted closed” to “closed unless posted open.”

In e-mails from November, Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell accused state park officials of trying to whip up opposition with a letter to registered off-highway vehicle riders, urging them to weigh in on the potential for losing 24 to 78 percent of the forest’s 657 miles of trails.

Brazell complained the letter provokes OHV enthusiasts by leaving out details of why trails may be shuttered – to protect wildlife habitat.

“I question your using a state database to get folks upset without giving them the whole story,” he wrote. “It doesn’t ask the reader to understand the ‘why,’ which is predominantly due to loss of wildlife habitat or habitat effectiveness.”

The e-mails were obtained by the environmental group Idaho Conservation League and provided to the Associated Press.

State parks Director Nancy Merrill wasn’t available for comment Wednesday, but she told Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Cal Groen in an e-mail that off-highway vehicle users pay the agency not only to manage their registration money, but to communicate with them, too.

The Idaho Conservation League, which is following the Nez Perce plan, said it fears the correspondence illustrates how Merrill’s agency is favoring motorized recreationists over others: Hikers, horseback riders, anglers and hunters concerned about wildlife habitat that is affected by trails.

“Why are they engaging in activism on behalf of one particular user group?” said Brad Smith, a representative in Boise. “It would seem only appropriate and fair that they would try to reach out to the diversity of recreational user groups we have.”

Jennifer Blazek, an Idaho parks spokeswoman, said Merrill tried to inform other groups about the travel plan update. But Blazek said Idaho’s vehicle registration program provides an efficient way to contact motorized recreation enthusiasts that doesn’t exist for other less-organized groups, like hikers.

“We communicated with the folks we could,” she said.

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