From the shores of big lakes to the banks of winding rivers, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is a lifeline for local communities. First drawing settlers in search of gold, silver, and timber, the same forests are now treasured for something different – it’s recreational value. Remnant roads that once led to work now lead to play in the form of hiking, hunting, fishing, and a host of water-based activities.
When the Forest Service proposed the Lakeview-Reeder Roads project to improve fish passage in Priest Lake and reduce sedimentation in 2006, local communities had their concerns. Thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), however, the federal government didn’t just listen to those concerns, it acted on them.
NEPA gives citizens their only opportunity to voice concerns about a project’s impact on their community. When the government undertakes a major project such as constructing a dam, highway, or power plant, it must ensure that the project’s impacts – environmental and otherwise – are considered and disclosed to the public. And because informed public engagement often produces ideas, information, and even solutions that the government might otherwise overlook, NEPA leads to better decisions – and better outcomes – for everyone.
Public participation in the Lakeview-Reeder Roads project review brought several mistakes to light, thereby preventing possible litigation and a waste of taxpayer money. Specifically, a public comment identified a discrepancy between the planned buffer zone for the protection of the endangered boreal toad and the federal requirement for such a zone. In response, the Forest Service redesigned the road to adequately protect the species.
During comment periods and throughout discussions with interested groups, concerns about the project’s impacts on the grizzly bear population were also commonly raised. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest shared those concerns and built into the project features that protect grizzly bears and grizzly bear habitat, including timing restrictions for harvest activities, buffers for spring bear habitat, strict food and trash handling requirements, and vegetation screening along specified roads. Additionally, approximately 31 miles of roads were decommissioned resulting in an increase of 4,328 acres of grizzly bear core habitat.
By informing the public of its plan and listening to citizen comments, the Forest Service avoided irretrievably committing taxpayer dollars to a project that violated federal laws and might have led to litigation.
 “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Lakeview-Reeder Project.” US Department of Agriculture. May 2009. Available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/6430_FSPLT1_009725.pdf
 “Record of Decision: Lakeview-Reeder Project.” US Department of Agriculture. December 2009. Available at: