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Idaho, Feds Agree on New Forest Program

by Pat McCoy, Staff Writer
Capital Press, November 3, 2006

State reaches safe harbor agreement under ESA Section 6

BOISE - Safe harbor protection is now available to private and public forest landowners in Idaho's Salmon and Clearwater River basins who enter into voluntary conservation programs, state and federal officials said here Oct. 26.

That is because the state reached conceptual agreement on an Idaho Forestry Program under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act with federal officials, said Gov. Jim Risch.

He was joined in making the announcement by Bob Lohn, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and Mark Limbaugh, undersecretary for water and science, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Under the agreement, landowners will receive legal assistance from the state if they are sued after voluntarily implementing conservation practices designed to enhance fish habitat on their property, the governor said.

Those conservation practices are designed to allow continued normal management on forestlands in the two river basins, including timber harvest. In the process, habitat should be improved but incidental takes of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act might occur, leading to potential lawsuits, said Lohn.

"The conservation practices involved will maintain and improve fish habitat. We can tolerate losing a few in incidental takes because of the good things resulting overall," Lohn said. "As a whole, following the guidelines will rebuild fish runs."

Risch stressed the program is strictly voluntary. It applies only to the Clearwater and Salmon River basins, spanning a large stretch of north-central Idaho from the Montana to the Washington border.

Both public and private forest landowners are covered by the plan. State-owned forestlands in that region will be managed under the plan, he said.

"Those who choose not to participate can continue under the status quo. Basically, they're required to follow the same conservation practices, but they'll be on their own if litigation ensues," the governor said. "However, we believe participation will help achieve what we really want - improved fish habitat.

"This is a win-win for landowners, and the five listed fish species in the Clearwater and Salmon basins," he said. "We hope it will be especially helpful to small landowners."

The five listed fish species are Snake River Steelhead, Snake River spring-summer and fall Chinook, Snake River Sockeye, and Columbia Basin bull trout.

Funding for the safe harbor program is $25 million out of a total of $33 million appropriated by Congress when it approved the Nez Perce Agreement. That agreement, finalized in 2005, settled tribal water rights claims in the massive Snake River Basin Adjudication.

The balance of those federal monies went to the tribe, Risch said.

Few have taken advantage of Section 6 under the Endangered Species Act, which allows for such agreements. It also turns responsibility over to the state, allowing NMFS and FWS to step back, Lohn said.

"Idaho will now resume responsibility for its own fish runs," he said. "You're a great custodian, and we're happy to turn that task back to the state."

The conceptual agreement is the result of cooperation and consultation, the way to get things done, Limbaugh said, in praising the pact.

It also has the support of the Intermountain Forest Association, said Jim Riley, president of that organization, which represents private forest owners across the state.

"We thank the governor and the others involved in developing this agreement," Riley said. "In the end, incentive-based, cooperative conservation will succeed in ways other efforts don't. Idaho is a leader in this area. Ten years from now I forecast we'll be back to find wide enrollment in the program."

Pat McCoy is based in Boise.
Idaho, Feds Agree on New Forest Program
Capital Press, November 3, 2006

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