For the next two months, Blaine County residents can express their opinions on how the county's roadless areas should be managed.
The public process began on Wednesday as local residents and government representatives came together for two meetings in Ketchum and Hailey.
The meetings are part of a larger effort to determine how the country's 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless lands should be managed. The same lands had been protected from development by President Bill Clinton's Roadless Rule until it was overturned by the Bush administration to make way for the "Final Rule."
Under the new rule, all roadless areas are subject to change, meaning new plans could range from building new roads to adding more protection. Current forest service plans would be used as a template to guide the process.
Despite the issue's significance, no more than half of the seats available at the meetings were filled.
"It's hard for me to understand why this room isn't packed to the gills," said the Wilderness Society's Norma Douglas. "This state is where the wildlands are."
Douglas said the end result of the process is likely a foregone conclusion.
"Ultimately, the decision rests with political appointees," she said.
Under the current process, crafting of the Final Rule nationwide begins at the county level with input from local citizens. County commissioners will then submit the public feedback to state governors—due in Gov. Kempthorne's office by March 1—who will then petition Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns if they wish to make changes to any of their state's roadless areas.
Douglas said Kempthorne has indicated he will participate in the process, but won't commit large numbers of state resources.
"This is called passing the buck," she said.
National conservation organizations will soon file a lawsuit against the Bush administration claiming the Final Rule will have a negative impact on the nation's wild landscapes, Douglas said. The states of California, Oregon and New Mexico have already done so.
Most of the 20-or-so people who attended each of the two local meetings expressed support for preservation of roadless areas.
Longtime Wood River Valley resident Tom Pomeroy said people need to remember that Forest Service lands are public lands owned by all Americans. He said the original Clinton rule gained widespread national support.
"Bush's folks didn't like what it said," said Pomeroy, claiming that they've already decided what they want to hear. "It's not to protect roadless land, but open it up."
Not everyone is upset with the move to initiate a new rulemaking process, though.
Ketchum's Chris Klick, a self-described backcountry user who participates in both non-motorized and motorized activities, said he wishes non-motorized users could understand his needs just as he understands theirs.
"I recognize that hikers don't want to see me," he said. "But it's getting more crowded. For us to have our own toy box is not unreasonable."
Klick said he wants to see roadless areas protected, but doesn't want to lose more backcountry access.
"Closed trails have impact too," he said. "We need to accommodate all users."
Former Forest Service employee and Hailey resident Denise Jackson Ford said motorized users shouldn't fear a loss of access since roadless areas allow non-motorized uses.
"The forest plans are fair and thorough," she said.
Blaine County will accept testimony for at least two months, but may extend that period if comments keep trickling in, Commissioner Tom Bowman said.
The commissioners will hold a final meeting to discuss results of the comment period and their recommendations.
Asked if the governor will listen to what Blaine County has to say, Bowman said he hopes so.
"I'd be very disappointed if he didn't," he said. "We're listening to what the governor has asked."
Bowman said those wishing to comment can obtain a form by calling (208) 788-5500 or by going to www.blainecounty.org and clicking on "Roadless Land Feedback Form."