The Bush administration today released documents announcing its intention to remove protections for more than six million acres of roadless areas in the national forests of Idaho. Idaho's roadless backcountry areas are some of the nation's last intact national forests and this proposal would open the door to their development by corporate special interests.
“Protection of our nation's pristine forests is critical to the preservation of our natural heritage. These wild areas contain watersheds that provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat and outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities that should be kept safe for generations to come.
“Last year, a federal judge struck down the Bush administration's attempt to remove protections for our nation's wild forests. Today, 50 million acres of roadless national forests, in all states except Alaska, are protected from road construction and logging. Now, under the cover of the hectic holiday season, the administration is trying to open the door to new development in the roadless backcountry of Idaho's national forests.
“America's conservation organizations are united to defend our last wild forests in Idaho and throughout the nation. We strongly oppose the Bush administration's last ditch efforts to sell out to the timber, oil and gas, and mining industries. If the administration gets its way, our country will lose some of the most peaceful and pristine places within our national forests. For example, releases of highly toxic selenium as a result of the proposed Smoky Canyon mine expansion into the Sage Creek roadless area in southeast Idaho threaten to decimate trout populations in those wild forests.
“Last year, the former governor of Idaho, James Risch, made a commitment to protect all but 500,000 acres of roadless forests in Idaho, which was widely hailed as a step in the right direction. Now, it seems as if the Bush administration has taken two steps backward. We should never allow these last intact forests to fall victim to corporate development."
According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released by the U.S. Forest Service, under the proposal, only one-third (3.2 million acres) of Idaho's 9.3 million acres will be managed in a manner that retains “natural processes and roadless characteristics.” (DEIS 2.5 p. 72) Current law protects all 9.3 million acres of Idaho's roadless backcountry. Six million acres, is an area roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Massachusetts.
The Draft Rule and DEIS, due out in the Federal Register this Friday, December 21, will start a public comment period that will last at least 90 days. During this time, the Forest Service will also begin a series of public meetings and hearings around Idaho and in Washington, D.C. To learn more, go here.
To find out more about the proposed Smoky Canyon mine expansion into Idaho's Sage Creek roadless area, see www.earthjustice.org.
Also expected is the imminent release of a similar proposal regarding the management of roadless areas in the state of Colorado, coupled with the upcoming release of a revised land management plan for the Tongass National Forest.