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Risch on Roadless: Open 'Er Up

Gov's roadless plan debuts along with new court ruling


Oh, never mind. Just as last week's issue hit the stands, wherein we reported on Governor Jim Risch's proposal for Idaho's 9.3 million roadless--or mostly so--acres (BW, News, "Roadless: A Long Way to Go," September 20), a federal judge stepped in and rained on everyone's parade. Everyone, that is, who wants a chance at putting in roads or other human-related marks on Idaho's undeclared wild country. Risch was operating under a 2005 rule established by President Bush, who asked governors for input on roadless management. On Wednesday, Risch presented an inch-thick report that essentially recommended that roads be kept off of about 2 million acres. The rest of it could be more or less available for some form of land management, depending on circumstances (such as forest health) or need. But about two hours before he stepped before the cameras to say so, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth LaPorte in San Francisco sided with several states who had appealed Bush's 2005 rule. In her opinion, LaPorte directed federal land managers to return to rules set by President Clinton in 2001, directing that the nation's roadless areas be preserved. The end result is not quite what any side would refer to as the end. Both Risch and U.S. Undersecretary for Agriculture Mark Rey, who was present for Risch's announcement, said the show ought to go on, despite the court ruling.

"What I hope you won't be reporting is that there is a sea change," Risch told the herd of media gathered in his office. "This latest ruling will be appealed and Idaho will continue its participation in the case and join in that appeal."

That's consistent with prior actions; Risch filed a friend of the court brief earlier this month, siding with the Bush Administration against those who wanted the newer roadless rule tossed out.

In his plan, Risch divides Idaho's backcountry acreage into four areas. Of them, two larger areas allow for some road building and other activities. To environmentalists who want the areas "locked up," Risch said, "I couldn't disagree with them more." Part of his idea is to allow for more timber harvest in areas that he said were overgrown with timber, and creating a fire hazard.

"I'm tired of battling the smoke," Risch said. "I think most Idahoans are tired of battling the smoke."

Of course, conservationists see the roadless areas differently; they point out that the remaining areas provide most of the mid- to low-elevation terrain that is home to many of Idaho's prized game species as well as prized fish habitat. That's in contrast to the national park and federal Wilderness system, they argue, which is comprised mainly of high-elevation backcountry. The Wilderness Society also pointed out that Idaho alone has a $660 million backlog in the budget that is needed to maintain existing roads.

Still, even conservationists who celebrated Wednesday's court ruling said they weren't sure how it might eventually play out. Already, the state of Wyoming, which challenged Clinton's 2001 roadless rule, has indicated that its attorney general may wish to appeal the new ruling. Agriculture Undersecretary Rey said he expected the matter could eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling.

While we're on the topic of wilderness, set your TV to C-SPAN: This is the week when Idaho Sen. Larry Craig promised to hold a hearing on the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, in the Senate. The measure, crafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, passed the House of Representatives earlier this summer.