Report stresses habitat needs
Hunters and anglers recruited to
protect roadless areas for wildlife
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
In an effort to galvanize the voices of
hunters and anglers in the debate over Idahoís road-free wildlands, a national
fish advocacy group released a report this week pointing out that areas without
roads are undoubtedly more fish and wildlife friendly than their more easily
Idaho contains more road-free forest and
desert regions than any state outside Alaska, and the report, penned by Trout
Unlimited, seeks to prove that "Idahoís roadless areas cradle some of the most
productive fishing and hunting opportunities left in the Western U.S."
Without further protections, however, some
of the hunting and fishing opportunities, as well as intrinsic benefits healthy
populations of wild animals and healthy habitat create, could be lost.
The 25-page report, titled "Where the Wild
Lands Are: Idaho," is broken into sections highlighting fish, deer and elk, key
road-free regions of Idaho and the role fire plays in the health of fish
habitat. Of local interest, the report features the Boulder and White Cloud
mountain ranges as one of the cornerstone blocks of unprotected road-free land
in the country.
The debate between proponents and
opponents of roadless-area preservation has too often been couched in general
terms: environmentalists versus industry, preservation versus extraction, said
Scott Stouder, Trout Unlimitedís western field coordinator for roadless lands
"Thereís an absolute value to Idahoís
roadless land for hunters and anglers over environmentalism and industry and
extraction," he said.
Idaho is rife with road-free, publicly
"Within the rugged reaches of the Boulder
and White Cloud mountains, the Pioneers, the Salmon and Clearwater mountains,
the Owyhee Canyonlands and dozens more wild areas, lie some of the most pristine
and intact trout, salmon and wildlife habitat left in the lower 48 states,"
according to the report. "Only a small amount (between 7 and 8 percent) of Idaho
is protected by wilderness, national park or wildlife refuge designation."
Trout Unlimited prepared the report
because the nonprofit organization believes it is essential that the voices of
anglers and hunters are considered in determining the future of Idahoís
road-free public lands, said Scott Stouder, the organizationís western field
coordinator for roadless lands protection.
"As this report clearly demonstrates, the
correlation between Idahoís roadless lands and the best of the stateís fish and
wildlifeóand hunting and fishingóis undeniable," Stouder said.
The Idaho Conservation League and Idaho
Department of Fish and Game agree.
"Itís correct. Roadless areas are more
productive from a fish and wildlife perspective," said Fish and Game Magic
Valley Region Supervisor Dave Parrish. "You have less erosion. You have more
secure areas for wildlife, and wildlife needs security areas for reproduction."
Idaho Conservation League Central Idaho
Director Linn Kincannon pointed out that when the National Marine Fisheries
Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the Columbia River basin in
2000 as part of an environmental study on anadromous fish, they found that the
best water quality, the most fish and the best habitat were all in road-free
"Itís great that thereís another group
doing the research that shows how important these areas are for fish and
wildlife," she said.
In fact, Stouder said the information
contained in the report seems to be common sense for many people.
"Itís kind of an obvious thing to people,
but it hasnít been quantified before," he said.
The report quantifies bull trout, redband
trout, salmon and steelhead. It also quantifies harvests of deer and elk in
areas with and without roads and examines the number and concentrations of
sediment-impaired streams. In all cases, road-free areas come out on top.
One of the key attributes making the study
unique is Stouderís research into what produces a high-quality hunting
experience, a subjective issue at best.
"Hunting quality is a pretty subjective
subject, and to be able to quantify it is pretty tough," he said. "What we used
were mature bulls and bucks as they were reflected in the last three years of
hunting statistics. We found substantial overlap in roadless areas.
"What I hoped to show here was some sort
of measurable quality of hunting. It takes good habitat for bulls to grow old,
even without hunters."
Finally, the report takes an interesting
look at the relationship between fish and fire.
"Research findings support a common-sense
approach based on the knowledge that western native fish have not only survived
fire for thousands of years, they evolved with it," according to the report.
However, the report goes on to state that
fire poses a threat to native fish when populations are small and isolated
because of other human-caused problems, like sediment from roads, logging and
"Fire can pose a serious threat to fish
when natural fire regimes have been altered by fire suppression or past
logging," the report contends.
But areas without roads are in relatively
good health, and they should not be a priority for fuels treatments that could
assist fish populations in more heavily impacted areas.
"Protecting our remaining roadless areas
on public lands from logging and roading is critical to keeping fish populations
from further risk," the report concludes. "If we have learned anything from
history and scientific research, itís that habitat degredation from logging and
roading poses a far greater threat than fire."
Stouder said the report was about four
months in the making and required research of Idaho Department of Fish and Game
records, as well as research into Columbia River basin research on salmon and
steelhead, anadromous fish species that have been on the decline for decades.
"But a lot of this was new, so we didnít
have established rules to go by," he said.
Idaho roadless facts:
- Salmon: 74 perecent of current
chinook salmon habitat is in road-free areas.
- Trout: 58 percent of current
westlope cutthroat habitat is in road-free areas.
- Elk: 88 percent of the land in
Idaho Department of Fish and Game hunting units yielding more than 90 percent
branch bull elk hunting success is in road-free areas.
- Deer: 72 percent of the land in
units yielding more than 40 percent four-plus-point bucks is in road-free
- Bighorn sheep: 67 percent of the
land in Fish and Game hunting units allowing sheep and goat hunting is in
- Sediment-impaired streams: 94
percent of Idahoís sediment-impaired streams like outside road-free areas.
(Source: "Where the Wild Lands Are:
Idaho," a Trout Unlimited report)