A draft plan for managing Idaho's 9.3 million acres of roadless national forest land didn't go over so well during a public meeting in Hailey late Wednesday night.
In fact, not one of the 15 speakers who commented during the meeting said they preferred the plan backed by Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch had petitioned the federal government to implement the state-specific rule in 2006 while he was governor.
As one, the speakers indicated they would like to see the U.S. Forest Service keep in place in Idaho the existing roadless rule issued in the waning hours of the Clinton administration in early 2001.
The public comment period on the new Idaho roadless rule will remain open until April 7. Copies of the revised Idaho rule can be downloaded at roadless.fs.fed.us/idaho.shtml.
Comments can be sent by e-mail to IDcomments@fsroadless.org or by regular mail to Box 162909, Sacramento, CA 95816-2909.
Nationally, the Clinton-era roadless rule preserves 58.5 million acres of roadless national forest lands, or nearly one-third of the roughly 193 million acres the Forest Service manages in 43 states. In Idaho, the Clinton rule preserves all 9.3 million acres of roadless national forest land in the state under one management designation.
But if state and Forest Service officials have their way, management of roadless lands in Idaho could soon change. Instead of the Clinton rule, the state's roadless lands would be managed under what some say is both a less protective and more complicated plan.
One of the speakers who said the plan is too complicated and advised the federal government to retain the Clinton plan was Hailey resident Denise Jackson Ford. Jackson Ford said replacing the Clinton plan is unnecessary because it's working fine.
She said she came to the night's meeting thinking she understood how the state's new plan worked. She said after hearing officials explain the rationale for the new plan, she's less convinced.
"I'm finding I'm more confused," she said.
Most speakers expressed concerns about the state-specific plan's designation of 609,000 acres of roadless national forest land spread throughout the state under a "general forest" category. These lands would be subject to increased resource development activities such as road building, mining and logging.
As a comparison in terms of their total acreage, the 609,000 acres designated as general forest statewide in the new plan are a little less than the combined Boulder-White Clouds and Pioneer roadless areas, which cover a total 754,100 acres of remote backcountry.
Most of the area designated as general forest is in southeast Idaho, where state officials have said they would like to allow more phosphate mining. Phosphate is a key ingredient in fertilizer, but when mined can lead to selenium poisoning, which is harmful to streams and aquatic species, environmentalists warn.
Locally, the general forest category would cover 21,000 acres in the southern Pioneer Mountains and a small 700-acre section on the western edge of the White Cloud Mountains near Stanley.
The first area covers the Fisher Canyon and Porcupine Creek drainages west of the Little Wood River and a section of high country surrounding 8,512-foot Swede Peak and 10,545-foot Scorpion Mountain. These lands are predominantly high, open country featuring scattered stands of evergreen trees, mostly on north-facing slopes, and large expanses of grassland.
The White Clouds section covers a roughly two-mile-long by half-mile-wide area where lower Champion Creek pours out of the mountains. The area has a mixture of forest and open range.
The inclusion of this latter section of roadless land in the western White Clouds in the general forest category is troubling, said local resident Clyde Harris.
"I assert all roadless areas are critical to our future," he said. "That land should remain untouched in perpetuity."
He said visitors driving between Galena Summit and Stanley benefit from the exceptional experience uncluttered lands such as those 700 acres in the lower White Clouds provide them.
"Even if it's solely from their windshield," he said.
At the beginning of the meeting Wednesday, Forest Service officials replayed a taped speech Risch gave to another crowd attending another such roadless meeting in north Idaho. In the talk, Risch explained the state's desire to replace the Clinton rule with a homegrown Idaho-specific rule.
"This was the Idaho rule," he said. "It was done by Idaho people."
Risch said state officials wanted a roadless plan for the state that didn't take the "one-size-fits-all" approach like the Clinton plan.
He said the Idaho plan's reliance on four different management designations reflects different needs and values in localized areas. He said the more protective of the two designations—"Wildland Recreation" and "Primitive"—cover more than three million acres of the state's 9.3 million acres of roadless national forest land.
Risch said those lands would be protected at a higher level than they are under the existing Clinton plan.
Under the plan's "Backcountry Restoration" designation—which has generated tremendous concern among environmentalists—a total of 5.2 million acres would receive a similar level of protection compared to the Clinton plan, Risch said.
However, he said changes to the language guiding the management of these lands would allow the Forest Service to more easily approve forest health thinning projects near rural communities. He said the new language is a reflection of national desires to protect these lands coupled with local needs to keep communities safe from wildfire.
"The objective is to treat those areas when there is significant risk," he said.
Though the draft plan says temporary and permanent roads could be built to conduct timber projects in backcountry restoration zones, a Forest Service official said the final draft will remove the allowance for permanent roadbuilding for timber removal projects.