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Groups Send 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue on Massive Timber Sale in Steelhead Critical Habitat

April 13, 2020

Moscow- Two conservation groups, Friends of the Clearwater and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, represented by Bricklin & Newman, have issued a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue to the U.S. Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries Service challenging a massive timber sale in Lolo Creek on the Clearwater National Forest, located approximately 16 air miles northeast from Kamiah, Idaho. The groups are putting the federal government on notice that unless the project is significantly changed they will file suit in federal court to protect Snake River Basin steelhead, which were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. 

“The Lolo Insect & Disease project would build nearly 14 miles of new roads in the Lolo Creek watershed to log nearly 3,400 acres, including 2,644 acres of clearcuts,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “But even the agencies’ own analysis found the project would adversely impact steelhead ‘primarily due to turbidity plumes caused by ongoing road use for harvest activities near streams and sedimentation of stream beds caused by culvert removals, culvert replacements, and road use or reconstruction near streams.’ In other words, the project would do exactly the opposite of what is required to restore the threatened Snake River Steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.

“Steelhead have declined significantly over the past few years while the Lolo Creek watershed was being heavily logged and steelhead decline in that watershed appears to be even greater than elsewhere in the Snake River Basin,” Macfarlane explained. “Although the Nez Perce Tribe has spent millions of dollars trying to recover the watershed, the decline suggests ongoing habitat degradation is to blame. Yet the data used in the agencies’ analyses were older and didn’t reflect this serious decline. The agencies are obligated to do their due diligence and they have not done so.”

“It’s been 23 years since the Snake River Basin steelhead were listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Yet their numbers have continued to decline due to hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers and widespread habitat degradation caused by clearcutting and bulldozing new logging roads throughout the Snake River basin.

“Federally-designated Critical Habitat for Snake River Basin steelhead occurs in all four of the sub-watersheds affected by the project — the Upper Lolo Creek, Mussellshell Creek, Eldorado Creek, and Middle Lolo Creek,” Garrity explained.  “The National Marine Fisheries Service’s Biological Opinion determined that clearcutting and bulldozing new roads would ‘adversely affect’ steelhead and their designated critical habitat, but the Forest Service ignored that analysis.”

“The Trump administration bulldozed ahead with this clearcutting proposal in steelhead Critical Habitat and ignored recent data that shows Snake River Basin steelhead populations are currently at a 25-year low,” Garrity concluded. “We hope the Trump administration takes our 60-day notice seriously. If they ignore it, we will be left with no choice but to exercise our First Amendment rights and ask the federal courts to force the Trump administration follow the law.”