Thursday, November 30, 2006

Please don't drink the kool-aid: Governor Risch's plan is a disaster

Idaho Governor Risch has said that he will accept the language of the Clinton roadless rule to "protect" about 8.8 of the 9.3 million acres of Idaho roadless forests, and many conservationists today signalled they may be willing to accept the deal.

But Risch also said this to the Idaho Statesman: "I don't think people read the Clinton rule at the time," Risch said. "It permits road building for stewardship purposes in all roadless areas."

That isn't quite right. The rule fairly explicitly does not permit any road building in roadless areas, including temporary roads. (The text of the rule is available here. Scroll to the end for the actual regulations, at 36 CFR 294, which are short and sweet.)

But the rule manifestly does permit logging "to maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects." Anyone who has followed Forest Service logging plans for the last fifteen years knows that they all get justified as wildfire reduction projects.

And "roads" per se are not needed for such logging -- even "temporary ones." Only skid trails.

When the Supreme Court elected Bush as our president, Clinton's roadless rule became a kind of holy grail, and its return has been fought for ever since. People forgot that the rule was not necessarily all that protective. But now Risch is reminding us, and, in a sense, calling our bluff. It's ingenious, and I have to admire the man for it.

Of course, he also wants 500,000 acres of forested roadless landscape to turn over to industrial forestry. Again, those who are familiar with the lands in question are sweating bullets. Cove/Mallard, two adjacent roadless areas that were bitterly fought over by environmentalists (the enviros won, incidentally) who did everything from litigation to tree-sitting to, it is alleged by some, sabotage, will again be opened up for logging. Along with many others. Many environmental lawyers have heard of and used a lawsuit called Neighbors of Cuddy Mountain v. USFS -- well, Cuddy Mountain is a roadless area that will get logged under Risch's plan. It's full of giant, old-growth forests. Very few such places remain in Idaho -- I'd guess about 500,000 acres or so.

Before Idaho conservationists get so excited about Risch's apparent "compromise," they need to take a hard look at what they've been asking for, what the landscape deserves, what Risch is offering, and what is going to be given away. We have been asking for total protection of all roadless areas, not just the ones that don't have trees on them. Clinton's roadless rule was already a compromise that was hard enough to swallow after so much of our forested landscape got chopped down and sent to market. Risch's plan stinks and should be rejected at once.

Idaho Statesman story with Risch's language here.
Risch's plan, as it currently stands, here.
Original Idaho Conservation League statement here.
Clinton roadless rule here.


Anonymous said...

... and I bet the Kool-aid sipping Idaho Conservation folks, once ths pesky roadless business is settled, intend to garner Risch and soon Otter support for a series of pseudo Wilderness Bills in Idaho Forests that might even allow skid trailing in the name of stewardship, saving us all from catastrophic fire, etc.

...maybe the skid trails in roadless areas could even be considered "WUIs" allowing more ready acces to HFI funds.

Plus, the next step is for Risch and Otter to revive the Public Lands Task Force idea to manage these roadless areas under.

You may recall the Public Lands force was a 1990s effort by the state of Idaho to get control of federal land turned over to the state of Idaho so it could be managed "better", i. e. logged and cowed more.

The conservation groups might even get a seat or two on a nice Collaborative Stewardship Board of some kind (where lots of Kool aid would be served) to maange these lands ... the possibilities are many ...

Anonymous said...

Cove Mallard doesn't get logged -- it's in primitive. Cuddy Mountain does though.

gulo said...


sounds like we still don't know where the 500K acres to be logged are

there was a meeting the night before between the Gov and USFS mucketymucks that led to Risch changing tune

whatever actual merits of Risch's proposal -- and DL is right to fear for the best forests -- it's still worth marking the dramatic reversal in roadless politics that seems to have just happened.

I think we've now seen the high-water mark for this cycle of anti-environmental policy. There is hope, if not for us...

thanks again for taking on this blog. Vital.