USDA accepts Idaho's roadless area plan

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Secretary has accepted Gov. Jim Risch’s plan for the 9.3 milion acres of national forest roadless area in Idaho. It is now slated to be become part of the Code of Federal Regulations.

While such a regulation is not as hard to change as a law passed by Congress (as designated Wilderness areas must be), it is very difficult to alter such a rule. My guess is that Risch’s plan will put a strongly direct the general management of this huge swatch of roadless areas, the most national forest roadless area of any state.

On the surface Risch’s plan doesn’t look that bad, especially compared to states like Utah. Only 500,000 acres would be open for permanent road building and logging. Of course, you have to consider why Idaho has 9.3-million acres of roadless area — the land is generally steep, rocky, too cold, too arid, and/or too inferile to manage for timber production. Even in the past, most of the national forest timber sales south of the Salmon River (which flows east to west across the middle of Idaho) lost money, i.e., were taxpayer-subdized timber sales.

The plan essentially alows no development of 3.1 million acres. Temporary road-building could take place 5.5 million acres, under rules that would allow entry for “forest health.” It should not noted that “forest health” and activities that foster it or prevent unhealth have no objective standard. So those 5.5-million acres may or may not be protected. My guess is that future politics will determine that as well as appropriations to the Forest Service. Whenever there is a bad forest fire season, there tends to be a lot of talk about forest health.

Story in the Idaho Statesman. AP. Here is a link to Idaho’s plan



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  1. kt Avatar

    Well, the Risch Roadless does not look good for a lot of the country in eastern Idaho. At least that is my reading of the map at the Statesman link.

    A large portion of the Lost River range south of Doublesprings Pass is relegated to “wild land recreation”, as is the southeastern portion of the Lost River Range and much of the Italian Peaks area.

    And, if my reading of the map is correct, in the SE Lost River Range and the Italian Peaks, areas are colored brown – meaning they are stripped of any roadless consideration.

    So the biologically important corridors and other areas are stripped.

    Does anyone know how it compares to NREPA?

    Folks in Montana should defintely look at it, and see how eastern Idaho was dealt with – compared to their vision of wild land protection.
    For example, the spectuculr

  2. kt Avatar

    I meant SE portion of the Lemhi Range in comments above …

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The portion of the Lost River Range south of Doublespring Pass is wildland recreation, as you indicate. This is Risch’s most protective category. I can’t see anything wrong with that.

    As you know the real problem in that area — Borah Peak roadless area — is cattle grazing, which this won’t affect. It is also ATV hill climbing (actually mountain climbing) leaving tracks on Idaho’s tallest mountains, I don’t know if this will send a message to the Salmon-Challis on that or not.

    South of Pass Creek road, (is that what you meant?) the Lost Rivers (King Mountain roadless area) are given the less protective “backcountry” management, but the only threat is off-road vehicles. There is no timber, and I don’t think a single reliable spring. So there is little livestock. Nothing is going to happen there except continued ATV mountain climbing.

    I don’t know why the lower portions of SE Lemhis (Diamond Peak) were put in “general forest”. There are no extractable resources. The problems are ATVs.

    The truly bad proposals are for general forest in parts of some of the large roadless areas near the Wyoming border because there is some timber there (on very unstable slopes prone to earthflows). Once again I think the real problem is ATVs and grazing. I know that 20 years ago Idaho Fish and Game made a real push for Wilderness designation for Bear Creek, the big roadless area just NW of Palisades Res., and that is one of them Risch cuts up a lot (no doubt pressure from Bonneville County commissioners due to woods products industry there). Does it employ anyone at all?

    I can’t find from the text what the “special areas” (marked in orange) are. Some include Forest Service research natural areas, but the orange is much larger than these.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan