New Forest Service boss in Nevada won't rule out road

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SPARKS, Nev. (AP) - The new Forest Service supervisor in Nevada says he is not ruling out the possibility of rebuilding the washed-out road at the center of a dispute over a threatened fish in Elko County.

''I'd like to make sure that everything is on the table,'' said Robert Vaught, supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded a year ago that the South Canyon Road near Jarbidge could not be rebuilt without jeopardizing the survival of the threatened bull trout.

''The way I'm approaching it is I'm new,'' Vaught said in a recent interview at the national forest's headquarters in Sparks.

''I want to look at all the information we have, how it was done, what the conclusions were. I want to have some additional discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service,'' Vaught said.

''I really don't know yet the answer to the question of whether we've looked at all the possibilities or not,'' he said.

The 1.5-mile stretch of road runs in a narrow canyon along the Jarbidge River just south of the Idaho border. The river is home to the only known population of bull trout in Nevada and the southernmost population of the fish in North America.

A federal judge in Reno issued a temporary restraining order in October when State Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, and others organized a work party intent on rebuilding the road in defiance of the Forest Service. Judge David Hagen later ordered the Forest Service and Elko County into mediation.

''I hope Mr. Vaught's comments are a positive sign'' for an eventual settlement in mediation, Kristin McQueary, Elko County's deputy district attorney, said Wednesday.

The Nevada Division of Wildlife opposes reconstruction of the road, but disagrees with the federal scientists' conclusion that the road would jeopardize the survival of the fish.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked the federal agencies last summer to go back and review the situation to try to come up with a way to rebuild the road and still protect the fish.

The assistant minority leader of the Senate told them money should be no object in their consideration of alternatives.

The federal scientists went back to the drawing board, but returned again with the same answer: No road.

Instead, they recommended a foot trail be constructed, perhaps one large enough to accommodate all-terrain vehicles.

''We came to the conclusion based on the research we know of that a road next to the river is always going to adversely affect the bull trout,'' said Bob Williams, Nevada state director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But in November, Reid repeated the challenge and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., joined the call for the federal scientists to revisit the issue a third time.

''Money is not the problem,'' Reid said again. ''I can get the money.''

Williams responded in November that his agency stood ready to examine any alternative. But he cautioned, ''I think we'd have a difficult time coming up with a road that would not adversely affect the bull trout.''

Now, Vaught says he's willing to try. He said it is possible some sort of environmentally sound road could be built if an unusually large amount of money was made available.

''I doubt if money will be no object, but some (of the possible alternatives) may be more costly than what we had looked at before,'' Vaught said last week.

''Maybe the road will not be able to go as far as before but go part way, or maybe we could construct some facility or access that will still allow people to use the wilderness,'' he said.

Matt Holford, executive director of Trout Unlimited's Nevada Council, backs the plan for a trail but doubts there is a compromise that will rebuild the road and protect the fish.

''The alternatives have already been discussed,'' Holford said.

''They've done a complete watershed analysis of how this road affects the fish. All the science put together says it is a bad place for a road.''


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