A Win for Wild & Scenic River Values!

12th of May 2016

On Thursday, May 12th, Advocates for the West won a federal court order blocking the U.S. Forest Service from moving forward with its plan to build roads and clear cut along Idaho’s Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The Forest Service’s plan was in response to the 2014 Johnson Bar fire, which burned over 13,000 acres – much of which was within the Wild and Scenic corridor. Our suit argued that the agency violated its duties to protect the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; it also failed to fully evaluate cumulative environmental impacts along with other private and state land logging and 2015 fires in the same area.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale agreed. She faulted the agency for failing to adopt a comprehensive river management plan as required by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act more than 20 years ago.

“Without objective, predetermined criteria, the public is left to trust the Forest Service’s ‘word’ that it considered all relevant factors necessary to protecting the Middle Fork Clearwater and Selway Rivers’ Wild and Scenic values and that the Project will not affect or have minimal impact upon the Wild and Scenic values,” she wrote.

The Court also agreed the Forest Service failed to fully assess how the Johnson Bar project may cause mass erosion and sedimentation into area streams, which are habitat for imperiled salmon, steelhead and bull trout. She found the agency’s sediment delivery estimates “do not appear to accurately represent the Project’s overall sedimentation delivery to the river system.”

Executive Director Laird Lucas led this case with help from Legal Fellow Marc Shumaker; our clients are Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater. The court order obligates the Forest Service to conduct further environmental review, with public involvement, before it can proceed with a logging proposal.

“The Forest Service has not been candid with the public about this massive logging project that threatens harm to the Wild and Scenic rivers and their important fish populations.” Laird said after receiving word of the victory. “Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a federal court order to enforce the law and tell the Forest Service to do its job as Congress has directed.”