Protecting Idaho Wild and Scenic Rivers
On May 12th, 2016, 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.
The Court agreed and 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. 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.”
Advocates for the West filed suit in Idaho federal court to protect the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic Rivers from massive clear-cutting approved by the Forest Service on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
The suit challenges the Forest Service’s approval of the Johnson Bar Fire Salvage Project, which would log 34 million board feet of timber from 2,104 acres within the watershed of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic Rivers. The project includes massive clear-cutting, extensive roadwork covering just over 108 miles, and at least 13 helicopter landings within the designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor.
The area consists of steep, highly erosive soils, which drain into the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Rivers and their tributaries. These watersheds are designated critical habitat for endangered Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout; the dramatic increase in sediment threatened by the timber sale activities pose serious impacts to these imperiled fish and their habitat.
Our suit claims that the Forest Service’s approval of this project violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which required the agency to adopt a comprehensive river management plan some three decades ago – yet the Forest Service has failed to do so. Moreover, the Project violates additional requirements that commercial logging is not allowed within the Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor.
The suit also asserts that the project approval violates the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by “failing to comply with Forest Plan standards, ignoring well-established science that contradicts their pre-determined outcome…and failing to adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the Project.”