Courtesy photo by Chuck Pezeshki The Selway River in northern Idaho.

Court action seeks to prevent logging operations on Selway River


Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series about environmental and logging issues along the Selway River in northern Idaho. Part two will focus on the logging industry’s perspective.

Two Idaho environmental groups, Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater, are waging war in the federal court system to protect rivers in northern Idaho from logging operations, which the group contends is contrary to protections guaranteed to the rivers through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

In March, the organizations filed suit to protect the Selway River and the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River from massive clear-cutting that was approved by the U.S. Forest Service in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

The environmentalists claim in the lawsuit that Forest Service approval of the logging operations violates the Selway and Middle Fork’s protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 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 predetermined outcome” and “failing to adequately consider the cumulative impacts of the project.”

In a separate but related lawsuit filed by Idaho Rivers United, U.S. Judge Lynn Winmill ruled on March 28 against the U.S. Forest Service, finding that the agency ignored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by approving access to a state logging sale in the Selway River canyon.

“The state was proposing to operate a thousand logging truck trips over the road, and the [Forest Service] district ranger had a duty under the act to consider whether this use was consistent with the wild and scenic values set forth in the act,” Winmill wrote in his ruling. “His failure to do so constituted a failure to consider an important aspect of the problem, rendering the decision arbitrary and capricious.”

In early April, Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater filed for an emergency preliminary injunction to stop a Selway River salvage logging operation of 34 million board feet of timber on more than 2,000 acres of national forest land.

“The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was born in Idaho and we advocate for more and defend what already exists by reminding the federal government of its own laws,” said Kevin Lewis, conservation director for Idaho Rivers United. “At IRU our last option is litigation, but if it comes to that we won’t shy away.”

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by act of Congress in 1968 at the instigation of former Idaho Sen. Frank Church.

Language of the legislation states that: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

This system presently protects nearly 13,000 miles of 208 rivers, which is less than one-quarter of one percent of the nation’s rivers. Included are the Selway and the Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers.

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