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Fearing the federal government is trying to severely restrict the use
of eight million of its acres, the State of Idaho has sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the agency from ramming major policy
changes down the state’s throat without giving officials there time to
provide input.

After its Freedom of Information Act Request was ignored for nearly
three weeks — the maximum time allotted for such requests is 10 days –
Idaho filed suit demanding more information regarding the federal
government’s “roadless protection plan,” which proposes to set aside 50
million acres of U.S. land to remain roadless, and about which states
were given only 60 days to comment.

“What we’re asking of the federal government in this lawsuit is to
open up the process to provide a meaningful dialogue between the states
that would have to live with the effects of this proposal. Any
significant relationship between the states and the federal government
demands nothing less,” said Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne.

Idaho Attorney General Al Lance
calls the Forest Service’s proposal “completely unacceptable.” Adding,
“The project is moving so quickly that it is impossible to provide
meaningful comments,” Lance is demanding a standard extension of 120
days to allow for dissemination of information about the proposal, so
that Idahoans can have the chance to formulate their opinions of the
project.

Lance’s frustration began in October when the Forest Service issued a
notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement that would
lead to the end of all multiple use of millions of acres of National
Forest land around the country. Approximately eight million of those
acres are in Idaho.

The Forest Service limited the comment period on what President
Clinton calls “one of the largest land preservation efforts in American
history” to just 60 days — an unusually short amount of time, since
most comment periods for such government projects range from three to
four months.

“This announcement was an abrupt departure from the Forest Service’s
previous efforts to manage land in a collaborative manner with affected
state and local governments,” Lance said. “Idaho was given no advance
notice of the October announcement and was provided no meaningful
opportunity to respond.”

The state’s 17-page lawsuit declares that the 60-day comment period
was insufficient notice, that the information provided to states about
the roadless project was inadequate — the state has not yet been told
which specific acreage will be affected by the project — and requests
an extension to allow state government officials to formulate their
response to the project.

The Forest Service maintains a website intended to inform the public about its
roadless project, which, according to a spokesman for Lance, was still
under construction the day the comment period ended. The site says the
project will “restrict certain activities, such as road construction and
reconstruction in the unroaded portions of inventoried roadless areas.”

The website also contains the following statement: “We propose to
establish procedures and criteria to be used by each forest to determine
what activities are consistent with the important values associated with
roadless areas of all sizes — inventoried or not — that maintain or
enhance social or ecological attributes.”

According to the Forest Service, “[Americans] do not have the
resources to take care of our existing 380,000-mile road system. For
example, we receive only about 20% of the funding needed to fully
maintain roads. The backlog of road reconstruction and maintenance work
is about $8.4 billion. Many have questioned if we should build new roads
into pristine roadless areas if we can’t take care of the road system
that already exists.

“Building new roads into roadless areas to more easily manage the
resources, for example, to thin overstocked stands of trees, is
expensive,” says the site. “Costs include environmental and engineering
analysis as well as the costs of dealing with the controversy including
appeals, lawsuits. In addition, roads may contribute to resource
degradation. We believe that we should be investing our limited time and
resources into projects that have broader support, are less costly, and
have fewer environmental impacts than building new roads in roadless
areas.”

Critics, however, believe the project will leave forests neglected.

“The Roadless Areas Policy threatens the health and safety of our
National Forests by denying access, not only for recreationists, but
more importantly for resource management and firefighting,” said Trudy
Thomas, veteran political commentator and affiliate of
Paul-Revere.org.

Two-thirds of Idaho’s 52 million acres are owned by the federal
government, much of which is in trust to help fund the state’s public
schools.

“I’m extremely concerned about what this proposal could mean for
Idaho’s children,” said Kempthorne. “If the Clinton administration has
its way, many of our state’s public trust lands could be severely
devalued — which directly affects the foundation for school funding in
our state. The way to prevent that is for the federal government to put
all of the information on the table, so everyone has an opportunity for
thorough review and comment. So far, that clearly hasn’t happened.”

Six other state attorneys general have complained to the Forest
Service — those of Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah
and Wyoming.

Idaho is second to Alaska in terms of acreage affected by the
project, which has just short of 12 million acres set aside by the
Forest Service. Montana has 5.1 million acres being evaluated and
California may see 4.3 million acres of its land permanently sealed to
road development.

The Forest Service is expected to complete its environmental impact
report in the spring of 2000, when it will be submitted for public
comment.



Related story:

People don’t like roadless forests

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