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Judge gives USFS Orograde project a go-ahead

Civil case continues

Back in April, when the Forest Service notified the federal court in which Friends of the Clearwater sought to halt the Orogrande Community Protection Project that work would start June 1, the environmentalist plaintiffs asked the court to stop the work from going forward.

On May 31, the court – under Chief U.S. Magistrate Ronald E. Bush – allowed the work to go forward while the sides continue to argue the case.

So Idaho Forest Group, which paid $250,000 for the opportunity to carry out the project, is moving to get the work done quickly.

“We are starting road work right away and plan to complete the logging this operating season to accomplish needed fuels reduction work to protect the community of Orogrande,” IFG-Grangeville mill resource manager Bill Higgins said. “We are very pleased with the court’s decision.”

The Forest Service began developing the project in September 2011, and in 2016, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor Cheryl Probert approved the plan. It calls for tree-cutting on 280 acres involving establishment of fuel breaks, shelterwood cutting and precommercial thinning, as well as prescribed fire in a 3,100-acre area alongside Crooked River.

The back-and-forth between the Forest Service and Friends of the Clearwater has been going on in court since last November. The Idaho Governor’s office intervened in February, with filings supporting the Forest Service as well as the 2006 policy then-Gov. Jim Risch brokered along with Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited to make Idaho an exception to a national “roadless rule.”

The Idaho Roadless Rule led to the formation of the West Fork Crooked River IRA (inventoried roadless area), which borders private property near the town site in the deep woods southwest of Elk City.

Bush summed up Friends of the Clearwater’s argument as an allegation that the project would “cause irreparable harm to potential wilderness values by developing the area with an irregular shelterwood cut and a road.”

He wrote that while Friends of the Clearwater “correctly points out that the Forest Service previously considered logging and road building to impact roadless characteristics…those other projects (the Mallard, Cove and Middle Fork timber sales) are sufficiently distinct in nature so as to remove them from direct relevance to the facts before the court.”

“This case involves a discrete and limited exception to the general rule that logging and road construction are prohibited in IRAs; that is, the West Fork Crooked River IRA’s classification…expressly allows the wildfire-abatement activities contemplated within the Orogrande Project in ways that could not have existed in either of these other projects,” Bush added.


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