Friday, February 24, 2006

Idaho roadless areas: the 'golden egg' in peril

Through remarkable foresight and dogged preservation efforts, generations of guardians of Idaho's mystical beauty have provided the nation with a premier showcase of nature's true spectacles.

That is now threatened by President Bush's plans to reverse President Clinton's policy of off-limits roadless areas and open them to industry.

The president granted the states until November to recommend whether or not to open pristine areas now classified as roadless. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who'll pass along recommendations of the state's 44 counties, is about to receive Blaine County's reaction.

Simply put, it is to leave well enough alone.

Working with counterparts in Camas and Custer counties, Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman concluded that 800,000 acres of national forest roadless areas should remain as they are.

Commissioner Bowman recognizes the overriding imperative in this decision: to preserve the golden egg that provides not only the Blaine County area but the entire state with economic benefits that flow from tourists lured by natural splendor.

Idaho Department of Commerce statistics demonstrate the need to preserve this wonderland.

Leisure spending by visitors in Idaho in 2005, according to a study by Global Insight Inc., amounted to $2.37 billion, versus only $596 million by business visitors.

Blaine County accounts for fully 5 percent of all visitor spending in Idaho, providing $70.5 million in annual wages in Blaine alone, or 25 percent of the county's employment. (Custer County owes 33 percent of its employment to visitors and tourism; Camas, 11 percent.)

Thousands of visitors weary of urban life, Americans as well as international tourists, flock here to immerse themselves in the tranquil embrace of woodlands and diversions so numerous that repeat visits are necessary to sample the full inventory.

Now, imagine roadless areas now devoted to peaceful enjoyment suddenly opened to the noise and destruction of industry. Once-splendid, unspoiled vacation spots would become sites for industrial exploitation and Idaho's reputation as the lower 48's world-class, spectacular environmental wonder would be dashed.

Blaine, and other Idaho counties, have done their duty in arguing against opening roadless areas.

Now, it's up to Gov. Kempthorne to understand the economics as well as the environmental necessity of preserving these areas, and to argue the case strenuously with President Bush and his advisors.

Then the test will be whether President Bush will honor these appeals as straightforward, honest calculations of what's in the best interests of local communities.

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