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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2004


Report stresses habitat needs

Hunters and anglers recruited to protect roadless areas for wildlife

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 accessible counterparts.

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 protection.

"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 owned land.

"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 areas.

"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 grazing.

"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 areas.

  • Bighorn sheep: 67 percent of the land in Fish and Game hunting units allowing sheep and goat hunting is in road-free areas.

  • 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)


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