Friday, December 21, 2007

Feds sign off on Idaho-specific roadless rule

Public can voice opinions during 90-day comment period


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

The U.S. Forest Service has given a preliminary green light to most aspects of a plan developed by Idaho officials that would protect 8.7 millions acres of Forest Service roadless lands in the state.

However, federal officials have made a number of changes to the state plan, some of which could impact the management of roadless lands on the Sawtooth National Forest. One of those would put fewer restrictions on uses of the southern Pioneer Mountains.

On Wednesday, the Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement for the Idaho plan, which was written by former Idaho Gov. and now Lt. Gov. Jim Risch and subsequently endorsed by current Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

Risch had submitted Idaho's state-specific roadless rule to the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C., in November 2006.

In the process, Risch pleasantly surprised environmentalists when he told the committee that the protection of Idaho's roadless areas should be enhanced.

"There were a lot of jaws on the floor," said Trout Unlimited's Chris Hunt, one of five Idaho sportsmen who testified in the governor's meeting with the committee in 2006.

Management of the country's roadless areas was subjected to a rewrite after the Bush Administration threw out Clinton's 2001 roadless rule, which would have protected 58.5 million roadless acres nationwide.

Locally, the changes to Risch's plan would revise the management prescription for several areas located on the southern end of the Pioneer Mountains Roadless Area. The management of these areas would change from a backcountry-restoration emphasis, which would allow temporary road building and logging for public health and restoration needs, to a less-restrictive general forest, rangeland and grassland emphasis, which would allow logging, road building, mining and other activities.

The Forest Service's proposed rule will soon be published in the Federal Register, an agency news release states. Once that happens, a 90-day public comment period on the proposed rule and draft EIS will commence.

The Forest Service has announced it will host a series of public meetings throughout Idaho to present the proposed rule and accept public comments. The revised rule can be seen at roadless.fs.fed.us/idaho.shtml.




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