Road for logging project challenged in Selway River corridor

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A northern Idaho couple and an environmental group have filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service challenging the agency's decision to designate a road as public and opening it to trucks for a logging project on state land.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Morgan and Olga Wright and Idaho Rivers United contends that the Forest Service made the decision without proper environmental analysis of impacts on the Selway Wild and Scenic River corridor.

The lawsuit also contends that the road crosses the Wrights' private property and declaring it public deprives them of a legal right to participate in the decision.

"For people who really love rivers, wild and scenic designation is our form of national parks," said Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United. "We view that designation as very important and it needs to be protected as Congress mandates."

Joyce Thompson, spokeswoman for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, said Wednesday that the agency doesn't comment on ongoing litigation.

Sharla Arledge, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Lands, said the Selway Fire Salvage Timber Harvest was scheduled for April 24 but was postponed after the state agency couldn't reach an agreement with the Wrights when they expressed concerns about the plan. Arledge said the department is considering its options.

Department officials estimate the sale on about 167 acres would produce nearly 7 million board feet of timber and bring in about $1.7 million to the endowment fund that supports Idaho's public schools.

The lightning-caused Johnson Bar Fire burned more than 20 square miles last summer and fall, mostly on Forest Service land but also on state endowment land. The department said there is no Wild and Scenic easement on state lands in the area where the logging is planned.

Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to reverse the determination by District Ranger Joe Hudson that Forest Road 652 is public. If it's not public, that means the Department of Lands would have to obtain a special use permit from the Forest Service, according to the federal agency's regulations, the lawsuit said.

Issuing such a permit, the lawsuit noted, would require the Forest Service to conduct an analysis of impacts on the scenic river corridor as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The lawsuit contends that the road is maintained by the Wrights to their home, but then becomes a dirt track that's not maintained. The lawsuit also said that a 2007 road access guide for the Nez Perce National Forest doesn't list 652 as open for motor vehicle use.

"This case is really about process," said Laird Lucas, an attorney at Advocates for the West who is representing Idaho Rivers United. "It's about holding the Forest Service accountable to its own laws and regulations."

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