Greens Fight Clearcuts in Idaho

     BOISE (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service used a phony road designation to approve clearcuts that will dump tons of rubble along a Wild and Scenic river, environmentalists claim in court.
     Idaho Rivers United and property owners Morgan and Olga Wright say the Forest Service falsely designated an unimproved road spur as a public road to allow loggers to clear cut nearly 7 million board feet of timber, which will require more than 1,000 truck trips across their land.
     Their May 19 federal lawsuit claims the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the corridor river management plan.
     At issue is the agency’s Nov. 20, 2014 designation of forest road 652 in Northern Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest as a public road. The designation allows the Idaho Department of Lands to use the road for commercial logging
     Idaho Rivers claims the Forest Service gave the OK without “conducting any analysis of adverse impacts upon the Selway Wild and Scenic River corridor.”
     “The Selway River corridor begins in Lowell where the Selway and Lochsa rivers join,” according to the Forest Service website. “Idaho County Road and forest road 223 follows the wild and Scenic Selway River through rugged country known for its extraordinary scenery, exceptional water quality and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.”
     The project encompasses 142 acres and 3 miles of new roads on 40 to 80 percent slopes and seven switchbacks, creating about 18,500 cubic yards of rubble waste area, according to the complaint.
     Road 652 is a short, unimproved “spur” road that runs parallel to the Selway River, to be reconstructed as a 16-foot thoroughfare under the Department of Lands’ engineering plan.
     Some 740 feet cross private property, and the Wrights say the logging would clearcut 6.89 million board feet of timber, requiring more than 1,000 truckloads to haul the logs across their land.
     They say the road does not qualify as a public road and was never designated as one until the Department of Lands decided it wanted to conduct a large timber sale.
     Forest Service statutes provide no clear definition of the term “public road,” but the agency manual defines it as “available, except during scheduled periods, extreme weather or emergency conditions, passable by four-wheel standard passenger cars, and open to the general public for use without restrictive gates, prohibitive signs or regulation other than restrictions based on size, weight or class of registration,” according to the complaint.
     Idaho Rivers says the road is shown “as a dirt road without a number on the official forest map for the Nez Perce National Forest. Likewise, the 2007 road access guide … does not list forest road 652 as open for any motor vehicle use.”
     The plaintiffs claim that under those definitions the logging trucks are barred from using the road.
     “Because the Forest Service erroneously determined that road 652 is a ‘public road,’ it unlawfully exempted the IDL from obtaining a required Forest Service special use permit to use the road for its commercial timber sale operations, and failed to conduct any analysis of the impacts of IDL’s timber sale and commercial road use,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs have been deprived of their statutory rights to participate in the decision to allow an activity that will very likely result in significant harm not only to the Selway Wild and Scenic River corridor, but also to the Wrights’ property.”
      Plaintiffs’ attorney Deborah Ferguson told Courthouse News: “A lot hinges on whether an analysis is required. If it’s a Forest Service road, the agency must go through the necessary steps to complete a proper analysis.”
     She added: “The timber could be valuable, but the damage caused by its harvest and any cleanup could far exceed any value from the timber sale.”
     She said the case should move forward sometime in the next month. Forest Service District Ranger Joe Hudson, a defendant, could be reached due to a full voice mailbox.
     The plaintiffs want the court to review and reverse the Forest Service’s designation of road 652 as a public road and to issue an injunction preventing its “unauthorized” use as a logging thoroughfare until the Forest Service conducts the studies required by law.
     The Wrights also want the court to consider the potential damage to their interests and property.

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