BOISE (CN) – A 40,000-acre logging project in a northern Idaho National Forest threatens the endangered bull trout, environmentalist groups claim in court.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies et al. sued the U.S. Forest Service in Federal Court on June 4 under the Endangered Species Act, challenging its final record of decision for the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Landscape Restoration Project.
The approval allows commercial logging on 22,100 acres and noncommercial logging in 17,700 acres of the New Meadows Ranger District in Payette National Forest.
The 2.3 million acre Payette National Forest features the largest part of the River of No Return Wilderness, the second-largest U.S. wilderness area outside of Alaska. (Death Valley is the largest mainland wilderness.)
Payette National Forest is bordered by Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Hells Canyon to the west, and other National Forests in other directions. It hosts more than 300 animal species, several of them protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Joined by plaintiffs Idaho Sporting Congress and the Native Ecosystems Council, the Alliance claims the Forest Service approved the logging without consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Such consultation is required by the Endangered Species Act, to provide a “broad reaching aquatic habitat conservation strategy for the northwestern U.S.” by way of the Pacific Anadromous Fish Strategy (PACFISH) and the Interim Strategy for Managing Fish Producing Watersheds (INFISH), two amendments to the 1995 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Payette National Forest.
A 2008 biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife service, based on the amendments, did not designate critical habitat for the bull trout.
The agency designated critical habitat for the bull trout two years later, in September 2010, encompassing about 18,795 miles of streams and 488,252 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada.
The designation requires ESA consultation for the forest plan, but the Forest Service failed to do so before approving the logging project in 2014, putting the bull trout at risk, according to the lawsuit.
“The defendants violated [the] ESA and its implementing regulations … when they failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the project is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical bull trout habitat,” according to the 10-page complaint.
It continues: “The agency’s failure to reinstate consultation pursuant to the ESA threatens the preservation of the native biodiversity of the Payette National Forest and the project area including its native fish life and its naturally functioning ecosystems. That failure also threatens the conservation of fisheries resources on public lands.”
The plaintiffs want the logging project enjoined and the Forest Service ordered not to award or consummate any timber sales until it consults with Fish and Wildlife.
They are represented by David Bricklin with Bricklin and Newman in Seattle.
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