Sportsmen Issue Their Verdict on Bush Rule:
by The Associated Press
BOISE -- Sportsmen say the Bush administration's proposal to erase a national rule which preserves roadless stretches of national forest would degrade land vital to big game and salmon runs.
But the point man for endangered species under Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said Tuesday that it could take two years or more for any changes to occur to those roadless tracts.
Office of Species Conservation Director Jim Caswell said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman's proposal is "designed to preserve the status quo."
Under it, governors would have to petition the federal government to block road-building needed for logging in remote areas of national forests proposed for development by forest managers.
The rule replaces one adopted by the Clinton administration and still under challenge in federal court. It covers about 58 million of the 191 million acres of national forest nationwide.
Idaho has the most land in the lower 48 states affected by the roadless designation -- 9.3 million acres. Environmental and sportsman groups called the proposal a thinly veiled scheme to open the land to loggers and other developers.
"The best hunting and fishing habitat is in roadless lands," Trout Unlimited's Scott Stouder said Tuesday. "It's not just endangered or listed species. You just ask elk hunters what they have to say about this rule change."
Trout Unlimited in June released a study which details the importance of trackless land to fish, wildlife, hunting and angling in Idaho.
The study found that 74 percent of the current chinook salmon habitat in Idaho is in roadless acreage. For westslope cutthroat trout, 58 percent of its habitat has no roads.
Most of the hunting units which produce a high rate of big bull elk and bucks are in roadless areas, Stouder said, along with two-thirds of those with bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
"Thumbs down," Jerome hunter Carl Nellis said after hearing about the plan. "It's going to have negative impacts on wildlife and people who enjoy hunting. The critters are in remote areas."
Nellis, who recently retired from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he does a large share of his hunting in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains. Idaho Rep. Michael Simpson wants to designate them as a new federal wilderness.
Nellis said the Bush administration's move is 180 degrees from the Clinton years, and a presidency with Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry could turn the policy back around.
Under the proposal, the roadless acres will be protected from development for another 18 months.
In 2006, each governor may submit a proposal either to continue protecting the roadless land or allow it opened to multiple use. The federal government would consider each state petition and then issue a regulation determining the extent of future roadless protection.
"In my view, the latest development doesn't have any effect," Caswell said.
He pointed out federal judges have twice struck down the Clinton rule, most recently in a Wyoming case decided in July 2003. Environmentalists have appealed.
Caswell, the former supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest, said that absent the rule, roadless area management reverts to the local national forest's management plan. If the plan says a certain area is to be managed as a wilderness, it is, he said.
The governors cannot do anything until the Bush rule change becomes law, Caswell said.
"So at the very earliest, it would be two years from now before anything might change," he said.
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