IRU wins road permit, salvage logging case

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.

When it comes to roads in the Wild and Scenic Selway River drainage, the Forest Service can’t just give the State of Idaho permission to run a thousand log trucks to and from state ground. The Forest Service has to consider environmental laws before issuing a permit, including the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

That’s the upshot of a federal judge’s ruling in the matter of Morgan Wright’s 2015 lawsuit, in which he and Idaho Rivers United sued and stopped an Idaho Department of Lands plan to send log trucks to market from a parcel southeast of Lowell down a public road across Wright’s land. In a March 28 judgment, the federal district court ruled Moose Creek District Ranger Joe Hudson erred by telling IDL its plan to salvage timber scorched by the 2014 Johnson Bar Fire would not need a special permit to truck 1,000 or more loads on a public road across Wright’s property to market.

Wright’s property neighbors state and private land off Forest Road 470 southeast of Lowell near the Selway River, where the 1968 federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects a corridor along both sides of the river from development.

The state had sought to use Forest Road 652, which accesses two properties beyond Wright’s house. The Forest Service, through Hudson’s November 2014 decision, did not require a special use permit.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill overturned Hudson’s decision, ruling that he “failed to consider…the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.” Winmill also noted “the road had been closed to commercial hauling” under a Forest Service regional order.

Idaho Rivers United issued the following statement: “The Selway is a national treasure, and the Forest Service has to protect its Wild and Scenic values,” IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said. “Idahoans and citizens from across the nation travel to this region to enjoy the wide-range of benefits provided by the Selway and nearby Lochsa Rivers. Wild and Scenic rivers are our nation’s most precious, prized and celebrated rivers, and they deserve our utmost care and consideration – not ongoing degradation as a result of poor management decisions.”

Wright wrote in an e-mail that he is “pleased with the ruling affirming the Forest Service must protect Wild and Scenic values.”

A week before Winmill’s ruling, the Idaho Department of Lands released a statement that noted the state’s salvage logging was completed without the use of Forest Road 652, albeit at higher cost.

“Without the legal challenge, the Selway Salvage Sale would have brought in more than $2 million to the endowment fund that supports Idaho’s public school system,” IDL noted. “Because of the higher cost of logging with helicopters, proceeds from the sale now will be approximately $630,000 – about $1.4 million less for Idaho school children.”

The Forest Service typically does not comment on lawsuits; a separate court fight over the Forest Service’s own salvage effort in the Johnson Bar Fire area began last month.

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