BOISE – A coalition of conservation groups sued the federal government Friday in an effort to block an Idaho rule for managing more than 9.3 million acres of roadless backcountry.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenges a plan the U.S. Forest Service finished in October after a lengthy process to determine how roadless areas and other untouched lands will be managed, preserved or opened to logging and other uses.
While revisions to the proposed rule include further land protections and have appeased some environmentalists, national conservation groups such as The Wilderness Society say it undercuts a federal roadless policy former President Bill Clinton issued before leaving office in January 2001.
The lawsuit argues the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it ruled the Idaho roadless plan wouldn’t jeopardize dwindling grizzly bear and caribou populations in North Idaho.
Attorney Tim Preso of the Earthjustice law firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Wilderness Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Lands Council and Idaho activist Gerald Jayne.
The federal Roadless Area Conservation Rule banned development and road building on almost one-third of the nation’s 192 million acres of national forest land. The Bush administration repealed that rule in 2005, allowing states to petition the federal government with their own management plans for individual forests.
So far, Idaho and Colorado are the only states to write their own roadless rules.
“The state-by-state approach just undermines what we tried to do in 2001, to have a nationwide policy,” said Craig Gehrke, regional director for The Wilderness Society in Boise.
The lawsuit filed on Friday, four days before President George W. Bush leaves office, could prove the first legal test for a state plan to manage individual roadless areas in federal court.
Idaho roadless acreage is second only to Alaska, where 14.8 million acres are designated as roadless.
The lawsuit names the heads of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor.
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