Coming together to protect the backcountry- op ed by Jim Risch and Chris Wood

Moose in the Great Burn Roadless Area in Idaho, photo by John McCarthy

From Oregonlive here. Thanks to Terry Seyden!

October marks the fifth anniversary of the state of Idaho’s petition to develop its own rule governing the management of backcountry inventoried roadless areas on national forests within the state. When the petition was issued, it might have seemed unlikely that the two of us–one of whom helped write the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, and the other who litigated against it–would find ourselves commemorating the success of an Idaho-specific roadless rule five years later. The fact that we are is a testament to the power of collaboration and of problem-solving approaches to contentious natural resource issues.

What’s more, our success on this issue occurred as the courtroom battle over the 2001 Roadless Rule rages on. The most recent decision from the 10th Circuit Court reinstates the rule, but we have no doubt that legal maneuvers will continue.

What brought us together was the realization that Idaho’s backcountry areas are too important to allow political bickering to compromise some of the best fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and angling opportunities on the planet. Shortly after Idaho petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop the Idaho rule, numerous meetings were held throughout the state, seeking comments from each and every stakeholder including commissioners from all affected counties. With input from timber companies, counties, conservation interests and others, Idaho crafted a rule to manage and protect, where appropriate, the state’s 9 million acres of national forest roadless areas. The Idaho rule was put into effect in 2008. Today Idaho enjoys arguably the strongest protection for roadless areas in the United States.

Thanks to the Idaho Roadless Rule, Idaho has protected some of the best big-game hunting and longest hunting seasons in the region. Unlike other states, hunters in Idaho don’t have to wonder if they will draw an elk tag, because Idaho offers over-the-counter tags for backcountry hunts. Likewise, anglers can enjoy Idaho’s high-country lakes and cool mountain streams that teem with wild and native trout. As a result, the lands protected by the Idaho rule help sustain an $808 million hunting, fishing and wildlife-associated recreation economy in the state.

Conservation is most durable when it involves the widest array of interests. By genuinely listening to everyone’s concerns and interests, we were able to balance and craft a roadless rule that met the needs of county commissioners, conservation enthusiasts, timber interests, recreation users and others. The process produced a close working relationship we call collaborative stewardship. It moved away from the tired battles between environmentalists and land users where competing interests are pitted against each other and it affirmed President Theodore Roosevelt’s belief that conservation should result in the application of common sense to common problems for the common good.

We believe collaborative stewardship could help to resolve other long-standing vexing natural resource challenges. Few issues, for example, have been more contentious than the recovery of Pacific salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. For 10 years, lawyers have filed briefs over the adequacy of a recovery plan for salmon. Recent increases in the numbers of returning salmon have done nothing to slow that debate.

The answers to this challenge need not be decided in court. As the Idaho Roadless Rule demonstrates, we can continue to find long-term solutions that are good for fish and people by bringing together those who are affected and creating a dialogue.

While the Idaho roadless petition was issued in 2006, the final rule was not published until 2008. It took time to travel the state seeking input from the public, land users and all stakeholders and to build consensus among interest groups who often disagree over natural resource issues. But in the end, we were able to achieve a result that will benefit generations of Americans. Collaborative stewardship is not fast and it certainly is not easy, but if the objectives are meeting the needs of people while protecting the health of the land, it is the right way to go and the right thing to do.

Jim Risch, elected a U.S. Republican senator for Idaho in 2008, is a former governor of Idaho; Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, with national headquarters in Arlington, Va.

5 Comments

  1. Below is a summary of the Idaho Rule impacts as depicted by the “Friends of the Clearwater” group.

    “The final Idaho EIS and rule advanced the state’s proposal that assigned each roadless area in Idaho to one of five different categories or “management themes”: Wild Land Recreation, the most habitat protective category with 1,378,000 acres, Special Areas of Historic or Tribal Significance on 70,700 acres, Primitive including 1,652,000 acres, Backcountry/Restoration (BCR) at 5,258,700 acres, and General Forest, Rangeland, and Grassland, the most at-risk habitat of 609,600 acres.

    Of the 9,304,300 acres of wildlands previously protected by the 2001 Roadless Rule from road building and development, the Idaho Roadless Rule immediately opens 405,900 acres to extractive uses and road construction. The vast majority of this half a million acres of “real estate,” as ex-Appointed-Governor James Risch referred to it during hearings last January, would host highly toxic phosphate mines in the southeastern part of the state. Notably, nearly all abandoned phosphate mines in that region are now Superfund sites administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that will continue to emit dangerous carcinogens into our human and natural environment for eons and cost taxpayers many millions of dollars to clean up. Only 1,479,700 acres of the original 9,304,300 acres of Idaho wildlands will retain protections similar to the 2001 Roadless Rule in their new category of Wild Land Recreation under the Idaho rule. This final plan would open two-thirds of previously protected, rare wildlands – about 5,754,900 acres – to timber cutting, road building, and, in some circumstances, mining. In the state’s outrageous doublespeak, this “real estate” category is called Backcountry/Restoration and Backcountry/Community Protection Zone and encompasses many of the Clearwater wildlands The remaining 1,821,300 acres are available for logging, road construction, and mining under some admittedly restricted circumstances.”

    My one concern that is not touched on to any great extent is the impact of this rule on existing cattle and sheep grazing permits. Not to mention the horrible impacts on water quality from mining, both past efforts and anything in the future. Idaho’s ability and interest in protecting stream water quality is well documented…it is very, very inadequate. The state barely funds their DEQ offices, and overall the commitment to protecting water quality is almost nil. I know this from experience, from having worked with these people here in north Idaho. So there are some fine words from the editorial writers, but the proof is in the actual number of feet on the ground by dedicated professionals. In summary, there are NO friends of roadless acres in the Idaho political roster.

  2. Ed, I wish someone more knowledgeable about the Idaho Rule were posting here. It’s all about understanding what is allowed and what is not in the different themes.
    Here is a link to the final Idaho Rule. On page 26 of the pdf is table 2 which compares the 2001 Rule and the Idaho Rule.

    First, you quoted

    The vast majority of this half a million acres of “real estate,” as ex-Appointed-Governor James Risch referred to it during hearings last January, would host highly toxic phosphate mines in the southeastern part of the state.

    But when I read the proposed rule on page 27, it says :

    5,770 unleased acres available for development. 1⁄2 mile buffer could affect additional 812 acres.

    To me, “a majority” of 500K would be greater than 250K acres. So I’m not sure what the Friends of the Clearwater’s logic path is.

    Only 1,479,700 acres of the original 9,304,300 acres of Idaho wildlands will retain protections similar to the 2001 Roadless Rule in their new category of Wild Land Recreation under the Idaho rule.

    Many people think that WLR SAHTS and Primitive are all more protective than the 2001 Rule. In fact, in comments on the Colorado Rule, some groups felt that that combined percentage (WLR, SAHTS and Primitive) of acres should be assigned to be “upper tier” in Colorado to be equivalent to acres “with higher protection” in Idaho. Below is the table.(Note, you can see the furthest right numbers on the table if you click on it).

    I’m not sure how the numbers in the Friends of the Clearwater

    This final plan would open two-thirds of previously protected, rare wildlands – about 5,754,900 acres – to timber cutting, road building, and, in some circumstances, mining. In the state’s outrageous doublespeak, this “real estate” category is called Backcountry/Restoration and Backcountry/Community Protection Zone and encompasses many of the Clearwater wildlands The remaining 1,821,300 acres are available for logging, road construction, and mining under some admittedly restricted circumstances.”

    and the above table relate.

    You also said (or Friends did)

    My one concern that is not touched on to any great extent is the impact of this rule on existing cattle and sheep grazing permits. Not to mention the horrible impacts on water quality from mining, both past efforts and anything in the future.

    As far as I know, the 2001 nor the Idaho have any impacts on existing grazing permits. So that is not clear.
    I’m sure that mining can have negative impacts (fewer if regulated responsibly) but again we are talking about 5770 or so (that weren’t previously leased) acres out of 9,304,300 acres.

  3. The comments on grazing were mine. It reflects my concern, from experience in steep, high country grazing areas in Montana, about the very long term negative impacts of grazing on the riparian zones and streams where cattle will always congregate.

    I fully realize that only full wilderness protection could (or would) provide any protection. I must confess that my comments reflect a high concern that here in Idaho water quality protection is basically ignored, regardless of any USFS designation or policy.

    So when an Idaho senator implies that the Idaho Rule is wonderful and right for our forest lands, I cannot help but believe that Rule is somewhat weighted towards resource extraction or as a minimum will not cause any pain to commercial interests. I am afraid I have become very cynical of all things political in Idaho since Gov. Andrus’ time. Extreme right-wing politics dominates Idaho in all things, including forest management. The Idaho Rule is an extreme compromise and not everyone in the environmental community is happy with it.

  4. Ed, I acknowledge your concern about grazing, and as I said, roadless rules (including the 2001) don’t affect grazing. Also, in some cases, wilderness designations have allowed grazing to continue.

    It seems like you are saying that Idaho is not effectively carrying out its Clean Water Act responsibilities. Perhaps that’s an opportunity for an environmental group to litigate..

    You seem to be arguing that “the R’s in Idaho can’t do anything right.” I just hope that that doesn’t influence you to believe everything others say without reviewing it on your own. I have found that the more partisan the US gets, the sloppier everyone gets with their assertions, because “we” all know that “they” are bad, so “we” know that others will believe us without checking the facts.

    I probably don’t have to tell you that I believe that this “we” and “they” ness, makes for bad public policy outcomes on topics far more important to society than statewide roadless rules. Not to speak of the fact that it doesn’t fit with most spiritual traditions’ goal of spreading love throughout our small green and blue planet. As Nietzsche said “be careful when you fight the monsters (dragons) lest you become one.” (I’ve seen it both ways so don’t know which translation is more accurate).

    I found Keith Allred’s Common Interest in Idaho to be a beacon of hope to our current hyper-partisanized society. I hope, in some small way, having a blog where facts can be discerned and debated will contribute to the goal of better public policy.

    If there are certain things you don’t like about the Idaho Roadless Rule let’s hear them. I know it’s kind of difficult to parse through the Rule, but I think if we put our mutual minds to it we could figure it out. I don’t think everyone in the environmental community would be happy with it unless it were all made Wilderness, so perhaps that’s an unsuitable goal.

    A better goal might be “a rule that incorporates considerations of Idaho’s and the country’s needs for conservation, protection of communities from fire, and some resource use.” I bet that that’s better stated somewhere in the Preamble.

    Also, let’s not forget the role of the RACNAC- it wasn’t just an Idaho R policy making effort. There were serious, honorable and responsible people of the environmental persuasion, articulately making their case and having strong influence over the results. At least, that’s what I observed.

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