The U.S. Forest Service put in the mail last week its draft environmental impact statements for Idaho’s petition to protect the state’s roadless national forest its way.
Groups started getting their DEIS delivered Tuesday and I expect a press release and my own copy today or Thursday. The Wilderness Society’s Brad Brooks in Boise got his copy and he gave me his first analysis: He doesn’t like it.
He says the language for the critical backcountry restoration area, where temporary roads would be allowed to protect communities is new, broad and will allow lots more logging.
The Forest Service even took more acreage out of protection and opened it up for development, Brooks said. Now I weigh his analysis against the fact the Wilderness Society supports keeping President Bill Clinton’s 2001 roadless rule intact.
The Idaho plan, started by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, written by Gov. Jim Risch and backed by Gov. Butch Otter took a novel approach to resolving the debate over the state’s 9.3 million acres of roadless forest. Risch, who got a forestry degree from the University of Idaho, has been the fireplug for the state plan.
And the Wilderness Society has been his chief critic. Other environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited have expressed support.
Risch had five different designations ranging from the most restrictive primitive areas to wildland, backcountry restoration, a special category and finally general forest.
Any roads allowed in 5.5 million acres designated as back-country restoration areas under Risch's plan would be temporary or meet the President Bill Clinton’s 2001 roadless rule exceptions for permanent roads, Risch said.
No roads would be allowed in 3.1 million acres that Risch would designate as wildland and primitive areas, he said. The plan also offered the timber industry and timber-dependent communities access to 525,000 acres of the state's 9.3 million roadless acres for traditional road-building and logging.
The new plan, Brooks said increased that to 609,500 acres. Brooks said beyond turning back the 600,000 acres to general forest management rules, the critical differences between the 2001 Rule and the DEIS are to permit logging, road building and mining in the backcountry restoration areas.
Here’s his analysis: “The 2001 Roadless rule prohibits road building unless “’a road is needed to protect public health and safety in cases of an imminent threat of flood, fire, or other catastrophic event that, without intervention, would cause the loss of life or property…’
“The DEIS Backcountry theme allows for road construction when ‘a road is needed to protect public health and safety in cases of significant risk or imminent threat of flood, fire, or other catastrophic event that, without intervention, would cause the loss of life or property, or to facilitate forest health activities permitted under timber cutting, sale or removal.’”
Watch how other environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited, which supported Risch’s plan react to this language change. The Idaho Conservation League has been on the fence on the plan and its reaction also will be interesting.
In the end, whatever is done will have to stand up to a court challenge because the Wilderness Society and other supporters of the 2001 rule are not going to be swayed by anything short of sticking with that rule.