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Idaho Rivers United, Others Sue U.S. Forest Service Over Clear-Cut Logging Near Wild and Scenic Rivers


The Selway River runs through north-central Idaho. - U.S. FOREST SERVICE
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • The Selway River runs through north-central Idaho.

The Johnson Bar Fire Salvage Project involves logging 34 million board feet of timber from more than 2,100 acres of the Nez Perce National Forest.

According to a news release from Idaho Rivers United—a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and conserving Idaho's rivers—the logging operation largely takes place within the watershed of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic rivers, after the Johnson Bar Fire burned through the area in 2014.

In response to the U.S. Forest Service final decision to log the area, which was released last month, Idaho Rivers United along with Friends of the Clearwater, filed suit in federal court in Idaho on March 11, alleging the Forest Service is violating the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by approving the clear cut logging. The suit also places blame on NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

"The Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers are some of the very finest river jewels in our nation, and Congress recognized that when it protected them under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act back in 1968," said Kevin Lewis, the conservation director for IRU. "Rather than follow its legal duty to protect the Wild and Scenic River corridor, the Forest Service is allowing significant degradation to occur without disclosing the true scope of the impacts to the public."

IRU states that commercial logging is not allowed within Wild and Scenic Rivers corridors. Furthermore, the area to be logged consists of steep and erosion-prone soils that drain into the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers and their tributaries.

The organizations fear the result from the timber sale activities will create a dramatic increase in sediment that will "pose serious impacts" to endangered Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout who make their habitat in the area.  

"The steelhead trout in the Selway River Basin are significant in that they are truly wild and unaffected by hatchery production," said Gary Macfarlane, of the Friends of the Clearwater. "This timber sale violates the requirements to protect the Selway's crucial steelhead habitat."

The salvage project involves reconditioning nearly 60 miles of hauling roads, the reconstruction of 17 miles of hauling roads and the new construction of 2.3 miles of temporary roads. It also includes 13 helicopter landings in the Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor.

Advocates for the West—a Boise-based nonprofit environmental law firm—is representing the conservation organizations in the case, as well as Deborah Ferguson, of the Boise firm Ferguson Durham, PLLC