Idaho Gov. Butch Otter used the 9th Circuit Court’s upholding of the Idaho Roadless Rule as the rationale for his pursuit of a state health insurance exchange under Obamacare.
But imagine how Otter would reacted had the 9th Circuit had ruled against Idaho.
What if the six years of work and compromise by Idaho, motorized recreationists, the timber industry, local officials and Indian tribes, Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League had all been for naught? What kind of predictable and probably angry rhetoric would we have heard today about how environmentalists and the federal courts are threatening Idaho’s way of life and economy?
Instead, when Otter announced the court’s decision on protecting 9.3 million acres of Idaho backcountry to the Legislature he got a hearty ovation in response. Protecting Idaho's roadless national forest was viewed as protecting a part of Idaho's way of life.
Otter's State of the State speech still had the obligatory shot at both federal land managers and court rulings. He also decried th federal Endangered Species Act as a threat to Idaho traditional industries.
But in his press conference afterwards he strengthened his case for collaboration with the example of a recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on an endangered species.
The federal agency decided to designate only 30,010 acres, instead of 375,552-acres of habitat for the southern Selkirk Mountains population of woodland caribou as it first proposed.
“It was because we stayed at the table,” Otter said.
Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson took heat from some in the environmental activist community when he signed on to supporting the Idaho Roadless Rule after many of his concerns were met. But just as he had done earlier on wilderness with Owyhee County ranchers, he too found staying at the table as the most productive route.
Public opinion polling his group has funded also showed collaboration has wide support.
“In the court of public opinion people wants to see people come together and now we’ve proved it works in a court of law,” Johnson said.
Risch, whose savvy political leadership made the roadless deal possible, doesn’t have a naïve faith that such agreements will happen if people just get together.
“Just having talks doesn’t do this,” Risch said. “You need someone in the middle of this who’s a dealmaker,” who has the power to bring people to the table and keep them there.
He thinks the Columbia Dam and salmon issue can eventually be settled this way.
“I don’t believe the salmon issue has matured to the point it’s ready yet,” he said.
Otter’s roadless rule-health exchange analogy doesn’t convince Wayne Hoffman, director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which wants lawmakers to continue to stand up to the Obama administration.
“There’s no table,” Hoffman said of the health exchange issue. “It’s fictional, its imaginary designed to give people the idea they have control when they don’t.”