Greens Challenge Giant Logging Project in Idaho

     MOSCOW, Idaho (CN) – A massive logging project in the Idaho Panhandle will harm thousands of acres of forest, several wildlife species and miles of tributaries of the Salmon River, environmentalists claim in Federal Court.
     The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Clearwater sued the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging a February Record of Decision (ROD) permitting logging and burning in the Nez Perce National Forest in the Idaho Panhandle.
     They claim the ROD failed to properly analyze impacts of the Little Slate Project: logging of 2,598 acres of forest, including 1,211 acres of clear-cutting that will leave only 5 to 10 percent of the forest canopy intact. It also authorizes 600 acres of seed tree cutting that will retain only 10 to 20 percent of the canopy; 377 acres of shelterwood cutting that will leave 20 to 40 percent of the canopy intact, and 410 acres of commercial thinning.
     In addition, the project will involve 515 acres of prescribed burning and excavator piling on 2,084 acres. It will require 12 miles of new road construction, 15 miles of road reconstruction and 63 miles of road maintenance, according to the complaint.
     The environmentalists say the project will affect the Little Slate Creek Watershed and six drainages in it, and two other tributaries to the Salmon River, the longest free-flowing river within one state in the lower 48 states, spanning 425 miles.
     Affected species include several species of trout, the gray wolf, Canada Lynx, Northern goshawk, the fisher, wolverine, pileated woodpecker, Chinook salmon and steelhead.
     “Compounding potential impacts from project activities, Snake River steelhead and Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon, both ESA (Endangered Species Act) listed threatened species, have designated critical habitat in the project area,” the complaint states. “Slate Creek, including all of the Little Slate Drainage and its tributaries, is designated critical habitat for the Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon. Designated critical habitat for the Snake River steelhead is located approximately one mile downstream from the project analysis area.”
     The Forest Service failed to mention the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests are being administratively combined, the complaint states. The Clearwater Forest is listed as “occupied” by the Canada Lynx, in the Northern Rockies Lynx Management Direction (NRLMD) under the ESA. If both forests are combined, the protection would extend to the Nez Perce Forest, the environmentalists say.
     “If a forest is designated ‘occupied’ for NRLMD purposes, the entire forest holds this status and remains ‘occupied’ indefinitely,” the complaint states. “Thus, if the Clearwater National Forest and the Nez Perce National Forest are combined, the entire Nez Perce-Clearwater Forest will be considered ‘occupied’ under the NRLMD and subject to its management restrictions.”
     The groups say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares the blame for violations of the Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy Acts because the agencies jointly “failed to adequately discuss and analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of logging and road building on bull trout and its habitat and did not use the best available science in making its determination. The agencies are failing to ensure the survival and recovery of the threatened bull trout.”
     They claim the defendants violated the NEPA by “failing to disclose and misrepresenting the potential need for and compliance with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits as required by the Clean Water Act for point source pollution.”
     They add: “The Forest Service is asking the public to take it at its word that it will do the right thing rather than disclosing that NPDES permits may be needed, disclosing consultation with the appropriate state agency regarding the need for NPDES permits, and explaining how the project will comply with any needed NPDES permits. The Forest Service is evading public scrutiny and involvement in violation of NEPA.”
     The environmentalists want the logging project enjoined for violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.
     They are represented by Dana Johnson, with the Northern Rockies Justice Center.

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