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For the week of May 10 through May 16, 2000

Forest Service limits
new roads

Over half a million Sawtooth acres get new protection


Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere and spokesman Ed Waldapfel

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere and spokesman Ed Waldapfel joined other Sawtooth National Forest land managers yesterday morning to release a draft proposal that will limit road building on 1.2 million acres of the Sawtooth National Forest. Express photo by Willy Cook.

 

 

 


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

U.S. Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck yesterday announced a proposal to end road construction on nearly one quarter of the 192 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Of that, 1.2 million acres are in the Sawtooth National Forest.

"I strongly support this proposal," Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere said at a press conference in Hailey yesterday morning.

The draft was scheduled for release yesterday afternoon.

The proposal would prohibit new roads on 43 million acres of inventoried roadless areas (those of over 5,000 acres) within the national forest system. That includes the 1.2 million acres in the Sawtooth National Forest.

Decisions on smaller roadless parcels would be left to local forest managers through their individual forest planning processes.

"In my mind, this is common sense business—solve national issues at the national level and leave local issues up to local publics and local managers," LeVere said.

Of the affected land on the Sawtooth, 635,000 acres would gain protection from road building for the first time. That represents 30 percent of the forest’s total of 2.1 million acres.

The majority of those areas are in the Smoky Mountains, west of Ketchum and in the foothills of the Sawtooth, Pioneer and White Cloud mountains.

Another 592,000 acres, roughly 29 percent of the forest’s total, are already designated by forest managers as wilderness study areas or road-free zones.

An additional 217,000 acres have already been designated by Congress as the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.

Under the new proposal, 84,000 acres of roadless land, making up 4 percent of the forest’s total, would be open to road building. Roads already exist on 561,000 acres, which make up 27 percent of the total.

People who expressed concern in last fall’s Forest Service’s fall 1999 public hearings about losing motorized access to national forests need not fret, LeVere said.

"Motorized access will still be allowed in these roadless areas," LeVere said at the press conference. "This makes no change in our motorized plan. I think we heard that loud and clear" [in the public hearings]."

Indeed, snowmobiles, ATVs and even full sized vehicles will still be allowed access to the backcountry in areas affected by the proposal according to individual forests’ motorized plans and regulations. The Forest Service just won’t be building or reconstructing roads in inventoried roadless areas, LeVere said.

In a subsequent telephone interview, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the motorized plans of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Ketchum Ranger District—the management units immediately surrounding the Wood River Valley—limit, for the most part, motorized uses to designated trails anyway.

LeVere elaborated:

"In my professional judgment, these combined, preferred alternatives do a good job of protecting the values in these inventoried roadless areas, and at the same time allows for other activities that are important to the people of Idaho.

"As a local manager of these natural resources," he added, "[I believe] it is good to have another tool added to our toolbox…that being something in- between lands to be developed and lands that are congressionally designated as wilderness."

Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel pointed out at the press conference that the proposal’s final approval is not a given.

"It’s important that people realize that this isn’t a draft in a can," he said.

In the coming months, in fact, the Forest Service will host meetings on the topic throughout the state.

On May 24, the Sawtooth National Forest will host an informational meeting at Ketchum City Hall at 7 p.m.

A second series of meetings, designed to gather public input on the proposal, will be held in June.

The second local meeting will also be held at Ketchum City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on June 22.

"We now feel that roadlessness has its own value to it," LeVere reflected—"wildlife, fish, water, a sense of place and solitude on the national forests."

 

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