LOWELL A federal judge has ordered work on the Selway Salvage timber sale delayed while a lawsuit goes forward. At issue is whether Forest Road 652 is open for hauling timber; from the Swiftwater Bridge, Forest Road 652 crosses private land to reach state endowment land which is near the Selway River. Last Friday, July 10, U.S. District of Idaho Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill ordered the work not to go forward. The lawsuit was filed by Idaho Rivers United (IRU) on May 19 and a footnote in one of the filings referred to its rapid progress as “a fire drill” but as of Monday, July 13, it remains unclear how long it may take to resolve.
“Our lawsuit focuses on a specific issue, but the big picture is about upholding Wild and Scenic values,” IRU conservation director Kevin Lewis said. “Wild and Scenic rivers are our nation’s most precious, prized and celebrated rivers, and they deserve our utmost care and consideration.”
Grangeville mill owner Idaho Forest Group (IFG) bought the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) timber sale June 19. According to court filings, IFG had Dabco Inc. of Kamiah lined up to start building logging roads on state land on July 6, only to have the road work kicked back a week by the Idaho Rivers United (IRU) lawsuit. Winmill’s July 10 order put the work on hold indefinitely, until the lawsuit is resolved, and as of Tuesday, July 14, it remained unclear how long the court case may take.
“We respect the rule of law, and will continue to pursue all legal remedies to ensure this public school endowment forest and the water that surrounds it stay healthy so the forest can provide financial benefits for this generation and future generations of Idaho school children,” IDL director Tom Schultz said. “We are concerned that, even if expedited, final resolution of this case will not occur in time for work on the salvage project to begin, much less be completed, before the spring and summer of next year.”
For approximately 740 feet, forest road 652 crosses private property owned by Morgan and Olga Wright, whose land is encumbered by two easements held by the Forest Service: a 1937 right-of-way for Forest Road 652 and a 1977 scenic easement under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The 1937 easement “grants the Forest Service the unfettered right to use the right-of-way for road development as if it owned the property outright,” Winmill wrote. “But even if the right of way was over federal land, instead of the Wrights’ property, the Forest Service would still be required…[to] require a special use permit before intensive use...”
Winmill also noted: “The Forest Service points to the 1937 easement as creating a public highway. But [the law] still requires that the Forest Service designate the road as public and maintain the road. From the record as it exists now, it appears that was not done.”
The Forest Service has long been working toward designating all its routes; Forest Road 652 is among those listed in the 2008 “Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use” (DRAMVU) draft environmental impact statement. But the Forest Service has not yet published a final decision on the DRAMVU, and is in the midst of holding a series of open house meetings, the next of which is slated for 5-7 p.m. Monday, July 20, at the Kamiah Fire Hall (EMS building) located at 515 Main Street.