Local People and Governments Case Study: Idaho Roadless Rule- Who Decides?

I found this map on the internet, hope it is correct.

Continuing our thread on the role of local people in managing national forest lands, it seems timely to bring up Idaho Roadless. I could understand why people who wanted A National Rule (albeit with some flaws) would be against Idaho and Colorado before the 2001 was upheld, as that may have been seen to be a harbinger of other states potentially escaping the 2001 Roadless corral. But now. I just don’t see why it is worth it for them to spend the bucks to go to appeals court with the Idaho Rule.

I am also curious if there have been settlement talks, and if so, what the USG put on the table. I wonder if such talks are protected by attorney-client privilege, or otherwise able to be FOIAed. But all that aside, what I see is the desire to not do what the State Government and the people of Idaho came to agreement about. For reasons that seemed originally ideological, but now are not so clear. I would really like to know what the groups are thinking, which I believe to be The Wilderness Society, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and The Lands Council. The groups are represented by Earthjustice.

Earthjustice’s story is that “protections were removed.” What we were told by other conservation groups is that Idaho gained additional protections in some places and lost in others but the net result was positive. This was generally a criticism of then-current Colorado efforts. It seems like there might be a lot of donated money sitting around marked “roadless,” with nothing else to litigate?

I guess they’re just “rolling the dice” (as my colleague says) with their donated, and our taxpayer money. It would be interesting to get estimates of the total cost (forest, region, OGC, DOJ) to the taxpayer for litigation and especially when legal decisions are appealed. My hypothesis, having signed many timesheets, and been on phone calls with a plentitude of attorneys, is that EAJA is the tip of a very grand iceberg.

Anyway, what triggered my thoughts about the Idaho Rule is this report on the efforts of the Implementation Committee.

Here’s a link and below is an excerpt:

Those were among the recommendations the Idaho Roadless Commission made to U.S. Forest Service staff across Idaho last week.
The panel, made up of foresters, county officials, conservationists and industry representatives, met as a federal appeals court deliberates on its future. It is designed to give the Forest Service a first look at how Idahoans react to proposed projects.
The commission was established by the Idaho Roadless Rule, which protects nearly 9 million acres of Idaho’s 20 million acres of national forest. The rule designates 250 roadless areas and establishes five management themes that guide temporary road construction, timber cutting, mineral development and recreation.

These themes, and especially the logging and other activities allowed in 5.5 million acres designated as backcountry restoration, are what prompted several environmental groups to challenge the rule in federal court. The Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited supported the rule that then-Gov. Jim Risch negotiated as an alternative to the 2001 national roadless rule.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on the rule Friday in Portland. The judges will decide in two to six months whether to uphold U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s decision that the rule was legal.

The commission was well aware its own recommendations are under scrutiny from the groups that are appealing the rule. Forest Service staff made the case that the boundaries between two roadless areas in eastern Idaho probably were meant to follow the ridgeline. But a closer look shows the line would be too steep in places to build a road.

Trout Unlimited’s Scott Stouder told the panel how the lawyers for Earthjustice, the group that argued the case, would see it.

“They would say this is just moving the boundary to build the road,” Stouder said.

I guess that this is an illustration of how the litigation shadow can fall across people’s thinking, and not just those within the agency.

Also, I have to point out as the resident roadless geek, that:

In one area, where a mining company plans to open a pit to mine phosphate outside a roadless area, the panel supported a map correction of a slurry pipeline through the roadless area. The pipeline special area could be used as a road under the rule, but that would be decided later.
“I think it’s more of a mapping issue than anything else,” said Alan Prouty, J.R. Simplot’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs and a commission member.
Everyone agreed, thumbs-up.

Pipelines and the zones used to construct them are OK under the 2001 Rule according to the Bull Mountain pipeline case.

The restoration projects were proposed on the Boise National Forest in high elevation areas. In an area near Big Creek Summit, conifers competing with whitebark pine trees will be “felled, lopped and retained on the site.” The other is a reforestation project.
No roads need to be built for either one. For Caswell the projects are a reminder that the rule is not just about locking up the roadless areas.

“The rule has permissions along with prohibitions,” he said.

It sounds like both these projects would have been allowed under this exception from the 2001 Rule.

294.13 b 1 ii To maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects, within the range of variability that would be expected to occur under natural disturbance regimes of the current climatic period;

I wish those groups could tell those of us who understand the roadless issues, why they want to spend our money on this fight. Is it about what’s allowed in one or more of the themes? IF so, it seems better for governance to have an open discussion about it.

I also ran across this article on the Idaho folks going to the hearing:

The federal courtroom in Portland was packed. A dozen people made the trip from Idaho to sit in silent support of the state’s roadless rule, including former Idaho governor Jim Risch and the chair of the Kootenai tribe.

Attorney Julie Weis represents the tribe. She says the rule is a good compromise, hashed out between environmental groups and mining interests. And it hasn’t led to more roads in Idaho’s national forests.

“In the four years since the rule was actually issued, not a single road has been built,” she told the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. “The sky is not following on Idaho inventoried roadless areas.”

We’ve often discussed how people not from the area should have equal voice.. apparently equal is not enough to some.

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