Photo by Andrew Ottoson
The 2014 Johnson Bar Fire touched 13,000 acres of thickly-timbered land near Lowell, including some on state land, which was helicopter logged to work around a dispute between the state and a neighboring landowner over the use of Forest Road 652. Pictured, the bases of many of the trees visible from Forest Road 652 show the marks left by the fire.
As of Wednesday, July 29, 2015
BOISE Despite an injunction that has prevented the use of Forest Road 652 by log trucks, logging of a state land timber sale near Lowell now appears ready to start in time for the Idaho Department of Lands to net $500,000 to $750,000 for the state schools endowment. The Idaho Land Board last week gave approval for logs from the $2.5 million Selway Salvage timber sale to be transported off-site by helicopter, reducing the public’s profit by as much as $1.5 million compared with hauling the logs by road.
Earlier this month, the court awarded the injunction to stop the Forest Service from giving IDL permission to use the road, which runs through the private property of plaintiffs Morgan and Olga Wright. The Wrights and co-plaintiffs Idaho Rivers United had long argued helicopter logging would be “more prudent than using the Forest Service road," IRU attorney Laird Lucas told the Associated Press after the July 21 land board meeting.
State forester David Groeschl told the land board IDL has two goals for its parcel. In the short term, “to recover the value and start initiating the forest restoration process,” he said. “Since we cannot use the 652 road, that’s why we’re looking at helicopter logging.”
Replanting also will be done by helicopter, with seedlings to be flown in at an estimated cost of $10,800 in total, or about $1,350 per hour.
While the court case is ongoing, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s July 10 injunction order stated flatly “the court agrees” the Forest Service made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision not to require a permit.
In the long-term, IDL “will work with the Forest Service through their permitting process, an EIS or doing their NEPA analysis to try to secure permanent access to the parcel so that we can manage unfettered in the future,” he said. “If we are unsuccessful in securing permanent access, then we may need to look at doing something else with that property.”
Groeschl described the permitting process as “a two-to-three-year process.”
“Within that timeframe, the value of the timber would be unsalvageable and of little to no value,” he said. “So since the injunction we have been talking with the original purchaser, Idaho Forest Group, about the possibility of helicopter logging this sale. Idaho Forest Group has been talking with adjacent landowners about landing zones, and talking with three helicopter logging contractors. Two of the adjacent private landowners have agreed to allow Idaho Forest Group to use their property for landing zones, so they have three landing zones identified on the adjacent private land.”
Two weeks ago, when the first big rainstorm of the season hit the hillside above the Wrights’ property, a nearby culvert failed, sending runoff down the road and filling the Wrights’ driveway with mud. To Wright, that highlighted what the Wrights and IRU had argued in court: that road-building above Wrights’ property could put the area’s soils at risk.
Groeschl told the land board that failing to log would allow insect and fire risks to go unchecked, while letting the existing timber’s value fall to zero. The board voted without dissent to allow IDL to modify its contract with IFG.
“We did contact the other active bidder and spoke to them about our efforts here,” Groeschl said. “They were supportive of our continued efforts to get the sale done with the contract modification with the original purchaser, so they would not contest that or oppose that.”