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Gov. Risch Touts Idaho's Roadless Plan
11/28/06 MSN Money Central

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Gov. Jim Risch plans to present his petition to manage Idaho's 9.3 million acres of roadless U.S. Forest Service land on Wednesday in Washington, D.C..

The plan has been praised by the timber industry as sensible even as environmentalists say it would open great swaths of pristine forest to destructive development.

Risch planned to defend his 69-page plan before the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee that advises Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns on such petitions. Johanns oversees the Forest Service.

The governor aims to ban road-building on about 3 million acres, while allowing some development on the rest, including roads for timber harvests aimed at removing beetle-killed trees some fear boost the danger of big wildfires.

Groups including Trout Unlimited, a fishing and hunting organization, fear Risch's petition -- should it win favor -- will adversely affect important wildlife habitat. Trout Unlimited members planned to testify Wednesday against the petition.

"It doesn't really do Idaho's sportsmen any favors," said spokesman Chris Hunt. "What's important to most hunters and anglers in Idaho is we can boast the most unspoiled, untrashed backcountry in the West, outside of Alaska. Under Gov. Risch's plan, we can't make that claim any more."

Others including Coeur d'Alene-based Intermountain Forest Association, whose members include the Potlatch Corp. forest products company, support Risch's plan. Serena Howarth, an association spokeswoman, didn't immediately return phone calls, but she's said Risch's petition protects primeval forest while allowing access for her members to do "restoration forestry."

Under the Risch package:

_ 1.4 million Forest Service acres would become "wildland," closely paralleling federal wilderness areas where roadbuilding is forbidden. That includes land slated to become wilderness in Idaho's Boulder and White Cloud mountains.

_ Another 1.7 million acres would be dubbed "primitive," and would get similar protections.

_ Meanwhile, in the petition's most disputed segment, 5.5 million acres would become so-called "backcountry;" roads could be built and logging done for forest health.

_ And commercial timber harvests would be allowed on another 500,000 acres designated "general."

Clashes over how to manage America's roadless lands flared after President Bill Clinton prohibited logging, mining and other development on 58.5 million acres of roadless Forest Service land in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

In May 2005, President Bush replaced Clinton's plan with a process requiring governors to petition the federal government to protect national forests in their states.

On Sept. 20 -- the same day Risch unveiled Idaho's roadless petition -- a California judge ruled Bush failed to do environmental studies before making changes allowing states to decide how to manage their individual national forests. U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte's ruling restored the Clinton-era rule, at least for now.

Undeterred, Risch is pushing ahead under a separate, decades-old federal rulemaking process that lets agencies such as the Department of Agriculture propose and establish regulations. The process provides for public participation.

Risch aides in Boise say he's hoping for a "fair hearing" from the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee. Its 13 members include a ski-area lobbyist, conservationists from the Center for Biological Diversity, snowmobilers from the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a former executive from wood-products giant Louisiana-Pacific Corp. and Arch Coal Inc., the second-largest U.S. coal mining company.

"Gov. Risch wants the committee to see this is a plan that's undergone a great deal of scrutiny and work," said Brad Hoaglun, Risch's spokesman. "He's optimistic they won't see it just as a reaction, as a way to open up lands. Because that was not the process at all."

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