Idaho sues U.S. Forest Service

Published March 1, 2000

“If the Clinton Administration has its way, many of our state’s public trust lands could be severely devalued–which directly affects the foundation for school funding in our state,” said Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, announcing that he and the state of Idaho have filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service. “I’m extremely concerned about what this proposal could mean for Idaho’s children.”

The suit, filed on December 30 in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho, alleges the Forest Service failed to give the state sufficient time to respond to President Clinton’s proposal to close all road development in current roadless areas. The Clinton proposal would affect 40 million acres of national forests across the country, including over 8 million acres in Idaho.

On January 7, the state followed up with a request to Federal District Judge Edward Lodge that he issue a preliminary injunction against the Forest Service, asking among other things that it delay action on its draft Environmental Impact Statement until the close of the 120-day comment period.

Alan Lance, Attorney General for the state of Idaho, said President Clinton’s roadless areas proposal represented “an abrupt departure from the Forest Service’s previous efforts to manage land in a collaborative manner with affected state and local governments.” He said the goal of the lawsuit is to provide the people of Idaho a reasonable time to review and understand the Forest Service’s proposal.

Lance said the state’s efforts to receive information about the roadless areas proposal, including maps or other site information to determine the proposal’s likely impact on Idaho, was hampered by the federal government. “Citizens attempting to visit the Forest Service’s ‘roadless initiative’ Web page have discovered that access to information, such as maps and site-specific information, was still ‘under development’ when the comment period expired.”

“What we’re asking of the federal government in this lawsuit,” Kempthorne explained, “is to open up the process to provide a meaningful dialogue between the states that would have to live with the effects of this proposal. Any significant relationship between the states and the federal government demands nothing less.”

The state had requested from the Forest Service an extension of 60 days to provide meaningful comment on the vast proposal. The federal government did not respond. Commented Lance, “the bottom line is that it is impossible for the state, or any Idahoan, to obtain information necessary to understand the Forest Service’s proposal.”

The Forest Service and other land management agencies, according to law, typically extend the comment period to allow time for the public to obtain necessary information to serve as the basis for meaningful comment. “In this case . . . the state was left with no choice but to take the Forest Service to federal court to provide the information and time to comment on this very important issue,” Lance explained.