Idahoans may soon have more say about how federal forestlands are managed. In 1998, the Idaho State Land Board appointed a group of eight recreationists, teachers, lawyers and timber company executives to devise ways that locals could work with the federal government to manage public lands.


In late February, the committee released Breaking the Gridlock. The report recommends creating five pilot projects to test alternative land-management practices on 10.7 million acres of federal land. The group wants the lands managed with more feedback from local committees. For instance, on the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests, a group of environmentalists, multiple-users, local governments and tribes would manage the forests to recover elk, while also increasing tourism and recreation in the forest, reducing fire danger through logging, and improving habitat for endangered lynx and salmon.


"We are talking about active management of those lands for whatever the public wants from those lands - be it recreation-based, environmentally based or commodity-based," says Bill Myers, chairman of the committee that drafted the report.


Because the pilot projects would take place on federal land, Congress must approve the plan. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has volunteered to carry a bill this year that will implement the report's recommendations.


But environmentalists say proposed legislation could set a dangerous precedent. If Congress gives Idaho a set of laws to manage its national public lands, they say, other states will push for similar legislation. "This is a takeover," says John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League. "It is a means to limit or eliminate environmental laws in order to cut more trees."


Read the report online at www2.state.id.us/lands.


Copyright © 2001 HCN and John Roach