This letter to the editor was submitted for publication to every major newspaper
in Idaho by Rich Tuck.
The Forest Service (USFS) has been derelict in its inherent responsibility to provide adequate Clearwater Region elk habitat. Loss of Clearwater habitat is one of the main reasons causing catastrophic Lolo Zone elk loss according to IDFG.
The Lolo elk herd has already declined 9,000 elk, 55%. Annual Lolo bull harvest has dropped from 1,000 to 160 - an 84% decline!
The current USFS Clearwater plan specifies procedures for improving elk habitat. However, Clearwater USFS is ignoring its own plan and responsibilities.
A new Clearwater USFS forest plan is being written now. Unbelievably, Larry Dawson, USFS Clearwater Region Supervisor, has stated he doesnt want to list elk as a key species indicator as in the current forest plan. Additionally, Dawson doesnt want annual acreage habitat improvement objectives in the plan like other USFS regions.
IDFG and local sportsmen have both requested USFS include habitat acre restoration goals and specify elk as a key species indicator in the new USFS plan. Dawson and USFS are obviously trying to avoid elk habitat accountability.
In a recent newspaper article, Dawson stated he was quite pleased with USFS Clearwater habitat restoration. In 2002, there were only 6,000 acres of Clearwater prescribed burns to improve habitat. IDFG briefed Senator Crapo 60,000 acres of habitat improvement is required annually.
There are 1.8 million acres in the Clearwater USFS Region. Dawson being satisfied with burning 6,000 acres demonstrates Dawson is attempting to mislead the public on elk habitat improvements or he has no grasp of the magnitude of elk habitat restoration required.
Furthermore, USFS is exacerbating Clearwater natural habitat improvement by still putting out almost every lighting fire. In 2002, only 124 wildfire acres burned.
IDFG Director Steve Huffaker has informed USFS that the State of Idaho will file a lawsuit against USFS if USFS fails to provide Clearwater habitat restoration.
Hopefully, IDFG, with the help of Governor Kempthorne, will finally require USFS to provide adequate Clearwater habitat to save the remaining Lolo Zone elk herds.