BOISE, Idaho — The U.S. Forest Service will do another analysis after a federal judge halted a northern Idaho wildfire salvage logging project following a lawsuit by two environmental groups, officials say.
The agency earlier this month gave notice that it plans to do a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project near the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers.
A federal judge in May temporarily halted the project that aimed to harvest 34 million board feet of timber scorched by a 2014 wildfire after determining the Forest Service would likely lose the lawsuit because it failed to factor in how subsequent 2015 wildfires might have altered the project.
Shortly after the ruling, the Forest Service cancelled the project so the agency could re-examine the analysis leading to its approval. The agency now plans the formal process that will lead to an expected new decision next summer, said Joe Hudson, a district ranger on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
“We’re going back through that preliminary injunction decision and updating the supplemental EIS to address those things the judge felt were not addressed adequately,” he said Monday.
It’s not clear what a new salvage logging plan might look like. The process involves various steps with multiple opportunities for public comments.
Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater sought the injunction contending the logging violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Congress designated the Middle Fork Clearwater and Selway rivers as protected areas under the act in 1968.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale in her ruling granting the injunction also said the Forest Service is decades past a statutory deadline to review a 1969 River Plan to make sure it conforms to 1986 amendments approved by Congress. She said that means the federal agency lacks the objective standards to effectively assess and protect wild and scenic values of the rivers.
Hudson said the Forest Service is also working on that aspect of Dale’s ruling.
Laird Lucas, an attorney with Advocates for the West representing the environmental groups, said the river plan is the more significant of the two obstacles the federal agency is facing.
“It’s really important that they come up with a current and comprehensive river plan,” he said.
After the Forest Service rescinded the decision approving the project, the environmental groups agreed to dismiss their lawsuit, Lucas said. But Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said the groups will be tracking the public process leading up to the new salvage logging decision near the rivers.
“This is a wild and scenic river corridor,” he said. “To many river people, this is the equivalent of a national park.”