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Boise, Idaho • The U.S. Forest Service erred in deciding Idaho officials planning a logging project didn't need a special use permit to use a road that crosses private property within a Wild and Scenic River corridor, a federal judge has ruled.
The Forest Service failed to consider requirements of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act pertaining to the Selway River in northern Idaho, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in the ruling issued Monday.
"It's a good strong ruling under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act," said Laird Lucas, an attorney for Advocates for the West representing Idaho Rivers United and property owners Morgan and Olga Wright.
Winmill also said District Ranger Joe Hudson failed to follow a Forest Service regional order that prohibited use of the road without a permit or written Forest Service authorization.
Joyce Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, said the agency had no immediate comment.
"The Selway is a national treasure, and the Forest Service has to protect its Wild and Scenic values," said Kevin Lewis, conservation director for Idaho Rivers United.
A wildfire in 2014 burned more than 20 square miles, mostly on Forest Service land but also on state endowment land.
The Idaho Department of Lands sought to use Forest Road 652 in early 2015 for a salvage logging project on 167 acres expected to produce about 7 million board feet of timber. The Forest Service gave the state the OK to use the road, saying it was public.
But in May 2015 the Wrights and Idaho Rivers United filed a lawsuit challenging the use of the road across the Wrights' property, and Winmill granted an injunction in July prohibiting use of the road.
After the injunction, helicopter logging was conducted on the 167 acres, calling into question whether that made the lawsuit moot. But Winmill said a ruling was still needed because of future state plans in the area.
Idaho intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the Forest Service.
Sharla Arledge, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Lands, said department officials were reviewing the ruling and declined to comment.
State Forester David Groeschl, at a July meeting of the Idaho Land Board, told Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and other Land Board members that if the state lost in federal court, the state would go through the environmental analysis needed to obtain a special use permit from the Forest Service to use the road in the future.
Lucas said he would be interested if the state sought the permit, but it would depend on the specifics of the request on whether Advocates for the West would get involved.
He said if the state just wanted to do light maintenance type work there probably wouldn't be a problem. He said if road building within the Wild and Scenic River corridor was part of the plan, his group would likely get involved.
On a related front, Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater filed a separate lawsuit earlier this month challenging the Forest Service's approval of a proposed salvage logging project on Forest Service land with an estimated 34 million board feet of timber from trees that burned in the 2014 wildfire.
The groups say the logging is within the Wild and Scenic corridor of the Selway and Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers.