Bush’s Last Assault: Offering the backcountry to industry (Part 3 of 6)

Pot Mountain Roadless Area, Clearwater National Forest, ID. Photo by Chuck Pezeshki.

I’ve worn out more than a few pairs of boots over the years tromping around Idaho’s backcountry. I suspect I’ll wear out before I see all of this scenic land.

Idaho’s backcountry defines the state and makes it unique in lots of peoples’ minds, who for generations have hiked, hunted, camped, and just generally enjoyed these incredible roadless forest lands. The more than nine million acres of roadless, undeveloped national forests act as refuges for some of the rarest fish and wildlife species in the country, including woodland caribou, wolves, grizzlies, bull trout, lynx, ocean-going salmon and steelhead trout.

Just a few weeks ago, Idaho’s nine million acres were protected by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Now, thanks to the Bush Administration, an Idaho-specific roadless rule has been adopted in place of the 2001 rule that opens up millions of acres of roadless lands in Idaho to roadbuilding, logging and mining. Idaho, with more roadless national forest lands than any other state in the lower 48, now has the weakest protections for roadless lands than any other state.

Immediately under threat, thanks to this new Idaho rule, is roadless land in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park where the mining industry has set its sights on roadless lands for phosphate mining. Selenium pollution, a result of phosphate mining, is already so bad that one phosphate mine is a Superfund site with pollution that threatens Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations. Expanding those mines means more pollution and inevitably more dead fish and useless habitat.

Allowing more road building and logging in other roadless lands translates into fragmented, compromised habitat for animals like caribou and grizzly—species that rely in large part on undeveloped habitat for their existence.

I know I’d rather wear myself out ensuring this doesn’t happen to Idaho’s priceless backcountry.