Defending Idaho’s Salmon-Clearwater Divide from Massive Logging Projects

7th of Oct 2021

Advocates for the West recently filed the opening brief in our case for Friends of the Clearwater against the U.S. Forest Service to protect Idaho’s Salmon-Clearwater Divide from massive clearcuts and other destructive logging in biodiverse old growth forest and sensitive watersheds. Our case challenges two neighboring logging projects, “Hungry Ridge” and “End of the World,” which when combined would log 26,000 acres—40 square miles—of public lands in the Nez Perce National Forest over the next decade.

Nearly 7,000 acres would be clearcut, including 41 supersized clearcuts, some hundreds of acres in size. These projects are part of a disturbing trend of the Forest Service authorizing more and more superized clearcuts throughout the Northern Rockies (see The Clearcut Kings: The US Forest Service Northern Region and its obsession with supersized clearcuts).

“As anyone who has visited an old-growth forest can tell you, they have intrinsic value as ancient communities of life, a value that cannot be measured in dollars.” Said Jeff Juel, Montana Policy Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “If a pileated woodpecker could talk, it would speak of the nesting habitat provided to countless generations by a stand of old growth. Something about the Forest Service is fundamentally broken when it only values old growth for meeting its short-sighted timber production goals.”

Perched above the Salmon River and the South Fork of the Clearwater, the Salmon-Clearwater Divide is renowned for its scenery, recreational opportunities, and fish and wildlife—including steelhead, grizzly bear, and fisher—which are found throughout the Divide, from the front-country areas closer to the town of Grangeville all the way to the remote backcountry in the Gospel Hump Wilderness.

As explained in our brief, the Forest Service authorized logging in old growth forests without ensuring the bare minimum amount of old growth required by law will remain afterward. The agency also authorized logging in seven watersheds that already suffer from poor fish habitat conditions caused by past logging and which are supposed to be protected—not logged even more.

To justify the massive amounts of logging and related road construction it authorized, the Forest Service touted Hungry Ridge and End of the World as “restoration” projects designed to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health by reducing forest fuels, insects, and diseases. The agency ignored considerable science undermining many of its assertions, including evidence that logging has little influence on wildfire and can even increase wildfire risk, as well as science showing that wildfire, insects, and disease create healthy, resilient forests—not logging.

“Wildfires are a serious concern,” said Staff Attorney Bryan Hurlbutt. “But the real culprit is hot, dry weather exacerbated by climate change, not the amount of fuels on public lands. The best way to protect private property is to take fire-wise action in the immediate vicinity of homes, not to log huge swaths of our National Forests at the expense of fish and wildlife.”

We will continue briefing this case through the end of the year and will be in court on February 1 in Boise, seeking to stop these destructive projects.

Read the Opening Brief