Idaho agencies split over forest travel plan

Wednesday , March 14, 2012 - 10:38 AM

Fish Creek winds through one of 16 roadless areas in Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. Photo:...

Eric Barker

BOISE, Idaho--Two Idaho state agencies have taken opposing views of the effect motorized recreation can have on elk habitat.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is one of 20 entities appealing a new plan that governs motorized travel on the Clearwater National Forest. In its appeal, the agency questioned, among other things, elk habitat analysis performed by the Forest Service and the federal agency's assertion that motorcycle use in the backcountry is negatively affecting elk herds.

Although Parks and Recreation is recognized as a representative of motorized recreation in the state, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is considered the state's expert agency when it comes to the needs of wildlife. In comments on a draft of the Forest Service travel plan, Fish and Game supported an alternative that would have closed more trail miles to motorized use. The agency said the more restrictive trail alternative was the only one that aligned with the 1987 Clearwater National Forest Plan and its call for protecting elk habitat in backcountry areas.

Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore acknowledged the mixed message presented to the Forest Service and said he is working with Parks and Recreation to make sure forest supervisor Rick Brazell understands the state's position. He did not criticize Parks and Recreation for wading into a wildlife issue, but also said he stands by his agency's position on elk habitat.

"Those comments stand as the state's comments regarding wildlife," he said.

Moore said it's natural the two agencies have different approaches, since they have different missions.

"This isn't a fight, this is just a process of the Fish and Game Department communicating its need from a technical standpoint and the Parks and Recreation Department communicating its needs from a management standpoint," Moore said.

Jennifer Okerlund, a spokeswoman for Parks and Recreation, declined to say if it is normal for her agency to appeal Forest Service decisions, or proper to do so based on subject matter for which another agency is recognized as the state's expert.

The department's appeal did include several points within the agency's area of expertise. For example, it argues the Forest Service did not need to close areas recommended for wilderness designation to motorized use. Brazell said expanding motorized use threatens to erode the wilderness characteristics of the areas and reduces their chances of future designation by Congress.

The appeal challenged that notion.

"Motorcycle and mountain bike use on trails has never changed the status of a proposed or designated wilderness in Idaho. The impacts that mountain biking and motorcycle riding has on wilderness character are temporary and not permanent."

That is something Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter agrees with. Otter sent a letter to Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell last month critical of the decision.

The appeal also criticized the plan for failing to disclose how opportunities for motorcycle loop rides would be affected and cited language in the 1987 forest plan saying motorcycles could be allowed in many backcountry areas. The appeal said the Clearwater, before the trail closures, offered motorcycle riders multiple, long-distance loop trails to choose from and noted the department has helped maintain those trails.

"The Clearwater National Forest, in particular the North Fork Ranger District, provides the only multiday looping riding opportunities in north central Idaho," the appeal said. "If Alternative C Modified is adopted, riders will be displaced to other trail systems in southwest Idaho or north Idaho."

Barker may be contacted at ebarkerlmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter ezebarker.

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(c)2012 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)

Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Topics: t000041223,t000030742,g000065696,g000362661,g000066164

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