Ten months after Department of Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman stood on the Idaho Statehouse steps and announced plans to clear-cut the Clinton administration's ban on road building on national forest land, America's commander-in-chief has made good on the threats. On May 5, the Bush administration repealed the previous roadless-area protections, shifting the protection of nearly 60 million acres of land to a complex network of state-government petitions.
Immediately following the release of the USFS's rule, the responses from various state leaders varied greatly. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, promised in clear words that despite the switch from federal control to state, "Roadless areas in California will remain roadless." Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, however, took a more circuitous route to his official opinion, which ultimately bore a marked resemblance to baseball star Mark McGwire replying to whether he had taken steroids. "Through its collaboration with governors and local communities," Kempthorne said, "I believe the Bush administration's new roadless rule provides a much better process for managing and conserving the areas throughout Idaho and the Nation that need to be managed to ensure their roadless qualities."
Despite the muddled syntax, Idaho's numerous conservation groups were able to glean what they felt to be a clear enough message from Kempthorne-namely, according to Jessica Ruehrwein with the Boise branch of the Sierra Club, "This is not a Roadless Area Conservation Rule, it is a Road Creation Rule." Calling the new system a "sham process," the Sierra Club and other groups, including the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited, derided the "abandonment" of the Clinton's popular rule, which protected over 9 million acres of remote Idaho land. Under the new plan, 85 percent of Idaho's roadless areas would be opened to logging, mining and other development operations unless Kempthorne writes petitions to protect those areas in the next 18 months.
"Over and over, Americans, and Idahoans, have voiced their strong support for protecting clean drinking water, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in our forests," said Scott Stouder, western field director with Trout Unlimited. "We hope that Gov. Kempthorne can see the value of protecting Idaho's irreplaceable roadless areas."
Don't count on it. Since the USFS decision, supporters of the plan have been vocal in their assertions that actual changes to National Forest Land management will be minimal and far in the future. However, in a press conference following the release of the plan, former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey, now under-secretary at the Department of Agriculture, had the following to say of Idaho: "When we proposed the rule last summer, we announced it in Boise, in large part because of the interest that the state and the governor expressed in working with us on it. So I suspect we'll be moving fairly quickly and that Idaho will be one of the first states to approach us." Gulp.