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Happy Birthday for Nine Million Acres in Idaho

January 22, 2008

Boise, ID – The U.S. Forest Service "Roadless Rule" started out 10 years ago today as a way to save millions of dollars, but soon became a topic of debate for people in Idaho.

The rule keeps more than 9 million acres of national forest land in Idaho free of development, more than in any other state in the lower 48, and it has survived repeated legal challenges.

Mike Dombeck, the Forest Service chief at the time, first proposed the moratorium on road building on millions of acres of backcountry Idaho in order to save the agency money. He says it made fiscal sense, and still does, because the agency can't afford to maintain the roads already built in the national forests.

"I find this interesting, the controversy around the roadless issue. It's really a very conservative approach: It's maintaining the status quo."

Dombeck says the Forest Service was $1 billion behind on road repairs 10 years ago, and that figure is even higher now.

Opponents say forestry and minerals are more important resources than undeveloped wilderness. However, a recent poll shows 58 percent of Idahoans support keeping roadless areas undeveloped.

Dombeck says neglected roads can cause permanent damage.

"They begin to erode and crumble and sediment runs into the streams, destroying spawning habitat for fish like salmon and trout."

More information is available from The Wilderness Society at

Deborah Smith/John Robinson, Public News Service - ID