Idaho Forests in Peril; Ruling Opens Untouched Lands to Development

Payette National Forest, Idaho.

Regional and national conservation groups including The Wilderness Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and The Lands Council denounced a new state policy that went into effect Oct. 16, which removes virtually all protection from more than 400,000 acres of national roadless forest in Idaho.

Our Partners' Take:

“The Forest Service has systematically roaded and logged pristine unroaded areas in North Idaho for decades. The new Idaho rule would put more of our roadless areas on the chopping block by designating them as general forest or at risk from wildfire. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest has thousands of miles of roads they are unable to maintain; letting them build more is reckless.”
- Mike Petersen, executive director, The Lands Council

The state plan promoted by the Bush administration also opens millions of acres of roadless forests to road construction, logging and mining.

“Nearly one-half million acres of roadless forest — an amount twice the size of the Sawtooth Wilderness — will lose the protection they deserve,” said Craig Gehrke, a Boise-based regional director for The Wilderness Society. “This is bad news for every American who enjoys our roadless forests for outdoor recreation opportunities and for the wide variety of wildlife that depend on these forests.”

The state administrative rule replaces the national 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule with an Idaho-specific rule pushed by the Bush administration. Adopted after the most extensive public involvement in the history of federal rulemaking, the 2001 Roadless Rule has protected more than 58 million acres of untouched forests in 44 states.

Despite the needed protections the 2001 rule provides, states do have the ability to opt out by petitioning the federal government, which is what Idaho has done in this case.

Specifically, the new Idaho rule:

  • Removes virtually all protection from 400,000 acres of roadless forests in the state allocated to general forest management.
  • Allows new road construction in an additional 400,000 acres of roadless land located near communities.
  • Allows environmentally destructive phosphate mining with its associated selenium poisoning of streams to occur in roadless lands near Yellowstone National Park.
  • Creates additional exceptions for road building and logging to occur within the 5 million acres to be classified as “backcountry.”
  • Would result in 15,000 acres of logging and 50 miles of road construction in Idaho roadless areas during the next 15 years in order to haul 15,000 truck loads of logs, according to Forest Service estimates
  • Creates a management framework for Idaho roadless areas, different than in any other national forest, leading to administrative confusion, uncertainty and paperwork.