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Protecting America's National Forests, a report by the Heritage Forests Campaign

Idaho’s Roadless Backcountry


In 2006, the Governor of Idaho filed a petition to open up areas currently protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to commercial development. On November 29, 2006, Governor Jim Risch presented his state's petition to the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee (RACNAC) in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Forest Service released a report on July 3rd summarizing public comments on a Bush Administration proposal that would remove current protections for millions of acres of Idaho's roadless backcountry forests. More than 95% of the comments urged greater protections for Idaho's National Forest Roadless Areas. While the comment period is closed you can still submit a letter to Idaho's Lieutenant Governor.

Idaho’s Roadless Areas: National and Global Significance

Kelly Creek, Clearwater NF, Idaho
Photo: Chuck Pezeshkil

Idaho’s Roadless Areas make up the core of the last intact forest ecosystem in the lower 48 states – where all of the native plants, fish and wildlife -- from the smallest plant to the largest predator -- can still be found.

National Forest Roadless Areas in Idaho are the cornerstone of the state’s world class hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation heritage. They contain the headwaters of our cleanest rivers, spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout and other native trout and salmon populations. They’re home to mule deer and elk, as well as endangered, threatened and rare species like grizzly bear, lynx, and wolverines. And they provide unmatched opportunities for remote recreation and solitude.

Protecting America’s last remaining Roadless Areas is one of the most important environmental issues facing us today. It is akin to saving the Old Growth Forests and preserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

If the Bush Administration approves Idaho’s petition to open Roadless Areas for logging, mining, road construction and other development, it will set a precedent that many other states are likely to follow.

Backcountry Recreational Benefits

Hunters spend $231 million and anglers $311 million annually in Idaho, according to Backcountry Bounty: Hunters, Anglers and Prosperity in the American West, a 2006 report by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Sonoran Institute. In addition, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game receives $38 million (half of its annual $76 million operating budget) from hunting and fishing licenses.

Nearly 90% of Idaho’s 173,000 hunters rely upon roadless forests for quality hunting. Many of these hunters are residents, but many others travel from around the country to hunt in Idaho. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game receives half of its annual operating budget from hunters and anglers – most from those who come from other states to enjoy Idaho’s backcountry. More motorized access and development means hunting seasons would need to be shortened and big game tags limited, thereby compromising Idaho’s status as a hunting and fishing destination.

More than 90% of the biggest bull elk and 70% of the largest mule-deer bucks are successfully hunted in roadless forests, according to a 2003 report by Trout Unlimited. Roadless forests provide adequate high quality habitat necessary for big game animals to reach maturity largely because they are free to range along intact, historic migration routes.

Idaho hosts 416,000 anglers every year. The presence of bull trout, an endangered species, in a stream indicates a strong likelihood that desirable game fish are also present. Forest Service officials report that there are 53 healthy populations of bull trout in the Boise National Forest. Fifty of these populations are in roadless areas, and two others are in Wilderness areas. In contrast, the heavily roaded portions of the Boise National Forest have 1,741 road crossings over fish-bearing streams, making 90% of these waterways impassable to fish.

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