Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Integrity of roadless evaluations questioned

Critics says recommendation forms favor natural resources users


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

The formation of President Bush's rule to re-evaluate roadless areas on national forests is now in the hands of the people, but the people's hands may be tied.

County commissioners across Idaho are currently asking citizens to provide written feedback about how they want U.S. Forest Service roadless areas to be managed in the future. But some of the comment forms, which are designed by individual commissions, are "seriously flawed and possibly illegal," according to a former federal land manager.

Robert Krumm, who worked for the Bureau of Land Management for more than 30 years, believes the forms in question were created to intentionally confuse the public and limit feedback from citizens. Krumm lives in McCall, which is in Valley County.

In a letter to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthoprne, Krumm stated he's "suspicious" that the Valley County commissioners intended to "skew the procedures so that commercial users' opinions would outweigh comments from ordinary citizens.

"The more difficult the comment process, the less chance that general public comments will be forthcoming," he added.

Krumm's suspicions are not isolated.

Marv Hoyt, Idaho director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said comment forms in eastern Idaho are equally confusing and appear to have been created to discourage public comment.

"They're trying to make this as difficult as possible for the folks in eastern Idaho to tell the governor how lands should be managed," Hoyt said.

The forms in both areas require citizens to identify the forest's management unit, current prescription and desired prescription.

Given his 30-plus years of experience managing federal lands, Krumm wrote that he was "shocked" at the complexity of the process, adding that management units are not easy to find.

"In my opinion, (it) negates the value of requesting public input," he wrote.

He added that the comment form in Valley County suggests that only local residents can provide feedback, which would be illegal.

"All Americans have a stake in the management of our National Forests and ... have a right to comment on the management of the public's land," he wrote.

Blaine County's public comment form is much more user friendly. It simply asks citizens if they want any changes, and if so, what and where.

The county commissioners' recommendations are due in Kempthorne's office by March 1. If the governor agrees with any of the recommended changes, he must petition Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, who will make the final call.

But both Krumm and Hoyt feel the final call has already been made at the upper levels.

"To me the whole thing is nothing but process," Hoyt said. "And it seems like a process where the public's input will be ignored pretty much."

Krumm said he has evidence that the Valley County commissioners are being swayed by the financial rewards road building could bring to the county through activities like logging and mining.

A road was recently built in the Sage Creek Roadless Area on the Targhee-Caribou National Forest. The road, which according to the Forest Service has already been torn up, was constructed so a mining company could investigate the potential earnings of phosphate mines in the Smoky Canyon area in southeastern Idaho. The data is currently being analyzed.

Earlier this month the states of California, Oregon and New Mexico filed lawsuits against the Bush administration over the roadless rule.




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