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.