Idaho Forests in Peril

Oct 16, 2008

BOISE – Regional and national conservation groups denounced a new state policy going into effect today that removes virtually all protection from more than 400,000 acres of national roadless forest in Idaho. The state plan promoted by the Bush administration also opens millions of acres of roadless forests to road construction, logging and mining.

“When the Idaho Roadless Rule takes effect, 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.”

Gehrke commented in response to an administrative rule published in the Federal Register today that replaces the 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 protected more than 58 million acres in 44 states.

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 out 75 million board feet of logs — or 15,000 truck loads, according to Forest Service estimates
  • Creates a different management framework for Idaho roadless areas different than any other national forests, leading to administrative confusion, uncertainty and paperwork.

The multitude of negative consequences on the land will make a particularly adverse impact on the Yellowstone area.

“Our concern is that most of the lands being released from all roadless protection by the Idaho Rule are in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” said Craig Kenworthy, Conservation Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “These lands are important to hunters and anglers because of their wildlife and water quality values.”

Kenworthy also notes that “The phosphate mining industry is already responsible for a legacy of toxic pollution from past mining operations on public lands in southeast Idaho. We don’t need more phosphate strip mines in our roadless forests.”

The executive director of The Lands Council shares a similar perspective.

“The Forest Service has systematically roaded and logged pristine unroaded areas in North Idaho for decades,” said the Council’s Mike Petersen. “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.”