The future of Idaho's 9.2 million acres of roadless areas will again be in the hands of a federal judge today, as conservationists argue for the overturning of the Idaho Roadless Rule and the reinstatement of pre-existing federal regulations.
Representatives from The Wilderness Society and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, along with California-based advocacy group Earthjustice, will attempt to convince Idaho District Judge B. Lynn Winmill that the Idaho rule is not protective enough.
The Idaho rule was instated in 2008, replacing a set of national regulations that had been approved during the Clinton administration in 2001. If the state rule is overturned, Idaho's roadless areas would be managed under federal guidelines.
"The stripping away of protection for 400,000 [acres] and the lowering of protections on 5.5 million acres are our greatest concerns with the [Idaho] rule," said Craig Gehrke, Idaho spokesman for The Wilderness Society.
Idaho's plan increases protections in some areas, but also opens up 400,000 acres of previously designated roadless area to activities such as phosphate mining, proposed for a site in southeastern Idaho.
"Phosphate mining in Idaho is really destructive," said Marv Hoyt, spokesman for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Phosphate mining is conducted with open pits, which are aesthetically displeasing, but mining also produces selenium, which can contaminate forage and harm livestock and wildlife. Hoyt said allowing phosphate mining is one of his organization's main concerns with Idaho's rule.
"We don't see that as being protective enough of wildland and wildlife," Hoyt said.
Other conservationists, however, say the Idaho rule should stand as the state's plan for roadless management.
"This is far from perfect," said Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate for the Idaho Conservation League. "However, we felt that it did provide the protection for the vast majority of areas and it struck a balance."
The organization has filed an amicus brief with the court supporting the rule, which Oppenheimer said is consistent with the positions of the U.S. Forest Service and the Obama administration.
Idaho's rule also gives the Forest Service the option of building temporary roads in roadless areas. That would allow the agency to conduct fire prevention projects, such as prescribed burns and tree thinning, that would be prohibited by the 2001 rule.
"The rule really does more good than bad," Oppenheimer said. "In the end, we feel the protections are adequate."
Gehrke said he expects a decision from the court within a few months.
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