November 30, 2006
For immediate release:
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Gov. Jim Risch’s presentation to the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee (RACNAC) caught Idaho hunters and anglers by surprise on Wednesday, leaving those who gathered to testify against the governor’s plan cautiously optimistic that its implementation would help protect fish and wildlife habitat in the Gem State.
“This is not what we expected when we read the petition,” said Scott Stouder, a backcountry hunter and field coordinator for Trout Unlimited based in Riggins. “I’m pleasantly surprised. The devil’s in the details, but I’m still concerned. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
The governor presented his petition to the committee first thing Wednesday morning at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Jim Caswell, director of the state Office of Species Conservation, answered questions from the committee throughout the morning. Expecting the worst, which could have included reduced protection for about 60 percent of the state’s roadless backcountry, five Idaho sportsmen left the meeting Wednesday afternoon feeling much better about the future of hunting and fishing in Idaho thanks to the governor’s presentation.
“I’m quite relieved,” said Chris Hunt of Idaho Falls, who works for TU’s Public Lands Initiative. “I was concerned the governor’s petition, as written, could severely degrade the quality of our hunting and fishing for generations to come. I feel much better about it today after hearing him speak, and I’m grateful to Director Caswell for helping clarify the intent of the petition.”
Part of the reason for the optimism was the governor’s comparison of his petition to the 2001 roadless rule, which set aside all 9.3 million acres of roadless land Idaho from future development. Risch noted the 2001 rule, while restrictive, still would have allowed for road building, logging and other development under certain circumstances. While part of Risch’s petition seeks the ability to construct temporary “stewardship” roads for activity such as fire treatment, the governor made clear that those roads would be built only as allowed under the 2001 rule. In addition, he is asking that about 3 million total acres be set aside for permanent protection and that no development be permitted.
“That’s very progressive thinking, and it caught a lot of us off guard,” said Bill Rogers, a backcountry sportsman from Idaho Falls. “I think many of us were expecting something totally different. There were a lot of jaws on the floor.”
While the governor’s presentation was excellent, Stouder said, there’s a need for some consistency between the governor’s presentation to the committee and the actual petition, which could be interpreted quite differently.
“By reading the petition, a lot of us arrived at a different conclusion than the one the governor presented to the committee,” he said. “The committee and the governor’s staff must come to some kind of agreement on the verbiage that brings the petition and the presentation closer together.”
The RACNAC is meeting again today to deliberate over the Idaho petition.