National forests in Idaho deserve full protection

Heart Lake in Mallard Larkins Roadless Area, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Craig Gehrke.

I spent a recent Friday afternoon uncharacteristically dressed in a jacket and tie, sitting in a court room, not particularly focused on what was being said. I found my mind wandering back to remember some of Idaho’s spectacular backcountry that I’d hiked this summer. It was the fate of much of that backcountry that was being debated by attorneys in that courtroom.

I thought about the roadless areas I’d been fortunate enough to hike this year: Fish and Hungry Creeks in the Clearwater National Forest, where the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of the Lewis and Clark trail is found; the Italian Peaks along the rugged Continental Divide on the Idaho-Montana border with its beautiful lakes and meadows at 10,000 feet of elevation; and Little Boulder Creek in the Boulder-White Clouds, the largest single national forest roadless area in the lower 48 states and where I watched a bull elk bugle challenge after challenge.

The Wilderness Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, represented by attorneys from the nonprofit Earthjustice organization, are challenging an administrative rule adopted by the State of Idaho under the Bush administration that adopted less protective measures for national forest roadless lands than any other state in the lower 48. Idaho has 9 million acres of national forest roadless lands – more than any state outside Alaska – yet unfortunately has ended up with the weakest protections for those lands. These vital lands support populations of threatened grizzly bears, endangered woodland caribou, and scare, dwindling species like Yellowstone and Bonneville cutthroat trout.

These areas deserve no less than the fullest measure of protection that is offered national forest roadless areas.

photo: Heart Lake in Mallard Larkins Roadless Area, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Craig Gehrke.

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