Conservation Groups Seek Extended Public Comment Period for Idaho's Roadless Plan
First time national comments requested on a state-specific roadless plan
In a letter sent to the U.S. Forest Service, conservation organizations throughout the country are calling for an extension of the brief 30-day public comment period on the management of more than nine million acres of intact roadless forest in the state of Idaho.
Idaho's roadless backcountry areas are currently protected by the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule from road construction, logging and most other forms of development. The new rulemaking proposed by the Bush administration and the State of Idaho would replace the current protections afforded to these pristine areas.
"The roadless national forestlands of Idaho make up the heart of the Northern Rockies and are considered the last great wild frontier in the lower 48," said Robert Vandermark, director, Heritage Forests Campaign. "We have a responsibility to conserve these areas as part of our country's natural heritage."
Idaho and the Northern Rockies are the last unspoiled places in the lower 48 where most of the wildlife species that characterized the region before European settlement can still be found.
During the previous rulemaking, which resulted in the current protections, the state of Idaho cried foul over a comment period that was twice as long as the current one. In their request that the 60-day comment period be extended to 180 days, the State of Idaho wrote:
"Your agency should not be trying to ramrod a decision that will shut down eight million acres of Idaho land into 'a short time frame.' You should be honoring the spirit - not to mention the clear mandate - of NEPA by providing meaningful opportunity for public participation and careful, principled, environmental analysis."
"If 60 days was unacceptably short then, why would 30 days be enough time now?" asked Christy Goldfuss, federal forest advocate, U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "In their announcement of the comment period, the Forest Service specifically references, 'the denial of requests to lengthen the public review period' as a reason for this new rulemaking process. It defies common sense that the Forest Service would actually make the problem worse in their proposed solution," continued Goldfuss.
This is the first time that the Idaho Roadless Plan has been presented to the American public for consideration and it's also the first time that comments have been requested at the national level for a rulemaking specific to Idaho's roadless areas.
"Every Idahoan and American deserves the opportunity to have their voices heard on conserving these special places," said Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate, Idaho Conservation League in Boise. "These areas belong to all of us."