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South Fork ‘wild and scenic’ suitability draws 40 to attend commission meeting

South Fork of the Clearwater, pictured at Castle Creek in July.

Photo by David Rauzi
South Fork of the Clearwater, pictured at Castle Creek in July.



— About 40 attended the meeting between Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor Cheryl Probert and the Idaho County Commission Tuesday, Jan. 9, during which Probert reviewed and reiterated the Forest Service’s study process – first reported by the Free Press in August – under which area river segments are being evaluated for suitability – which could lead to Congress designating some stretches as protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

That could include the South Fork Clearwater River and some of its major tributaries.

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Cheryl Probert, supervisor of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

The comment process, and a website the Forest Service rolled out in August, generated relatively little immediate public reaction, and the size of Tuesday’s crowd, Probert told the Free Press after the meeting, probably has to do with the public becoming focused on potential for the agency to firm up regulation of the South Fork Clearwater River.

“People have started to think about how it might affect some of the current uses,” she said.

During an interview with the Free Press after the meeting, Probert noted a new surge of interest in the forests’ ongoing public involvement processes may have other causes, too. The Forest Service has been seeking greater public involvement not only in the process surrounding the Wild and Scenic Rivers suitability study – the main subject of the Jan. 9 meeting – but also greater public involvement in the broader forest plan revision effort, of which the river studies are only part.

She pointed to a Lewiston Tribune report of the Jan. 2 commission meeting – the accuracy of which Probert has disputed – as well as the Jan. 2 meeting itself, during which county consultant Marty Gardner told commissioners the ongoing river studies could lead to the South Fork being designated.

Probert also pointed to a recent meeting the river study group had with suction dredge miners in December.

As for the river studies, Probert and those who accompanied her to the Jan. 9 meeting presented a table listing 89 river segments that had been identified as “preliminary eligible wild and scenic rivers.”

Among them are parts of the subbasins of the Lower Clearwater, the North Fork Clearwater, the Middle Fork Clearwater, the Lochsa, the South Fork Clearwater and the Salmon rivers.

Within the South Fork subbasin, in the South Fork itself, 34.5 miles were found to have “outstandingly remarkable values” (ORVs) for recreation, scenic, cultural, fish and wildlife, including blue ribbon fishing, harlequin ducks and endemic gastropods. In Red River, 20 miles were found to have recreation, fish and wildlife ORVs. In Johns Creek, 18 miles were found to have scenic and fish ORVs. In Meadow Creek, 14 miles were found to have cultural ORVs, as were 12 miles of Silver Creek. And 3.4 miles of American River were among those found to have ORVs for wildlife – specifically, mussels.

Probert told the Free Press she thinks people are starting to build up working knowledge of the forests’ processes – and echoed a commissioner’s thoughts on why so many turned out for the Jan. 9 meeting.

“It speaks to what Mark [Frei] said, about how people don’t really understand our language and the planning rules, and when best to get engaged,” Probert told the Free Press, referring to his comment during the Jan. 9 meeting.

“Federal regulation and the common man have gone two different ways, right?” Frei had said in reply to thoughts expressed by forest planner Zach Peterson. “Who can sit there and read you guys’ regs and understand you guys’ process? I wouldn’t understand it if I hadn’t been elected to this position where I get to interact with you guys.”

Peterson told Frei the Forest Service planners have been meeting with “any group that invites us to share.”

(Peterson – one of the “key contacts” listed on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Plan Revision website – can be reached at 208-935-4239 or zacharyapeterson@fs.fed.us.)

During the Jan. 9 meeting, Probert told the board the agency hopes to have alternatives designed by February, and told the Free Press she expects to take at least another full year before a decision is made – meaning there is time for people to get engaged before she decides. Forest planners – who are involved with the larger Forest Plan Revision – are also working through a “wilderness recommendation process.”



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