Two big pieces of news to share with you today. First, a message from Ecosystem Defense Director Gary Macfarlane on his upcoming retirement. Then a look into our most recent court victory.
On My Retirement
In 1994, I had the great fortune to go with FOC founder Steve and Sue Nelson, his wife, on an extended two-week backpack trip into Kelly Creek, a prime wilderness candidate, that summer. I told Steve I had “retired” from full-time conservation work at the end of 1993, which I had done for over a decade in Utah. I did let him know I wanted to volunteer. To my surprise, my “retirement” only lasted until 2001 upon the departure of FOCs first employee, Kristin Ruether.
Two decades later, I am ready to retire again, though with the same caveat as before—I will help as a volunteer for FOC. April 1st will be my last day as an employee (not an April Fool’s joke, I promise!).
I have no doubt FOC is in good hands. The current staff—Katie Bilodeau, Jeff Juel, and Paul Busch—already do the vast majority of the conservation work to protect the Wild Clearwater Country. I have grown to love and admire them as colleagues and friends. The current board are a solid governing body. I have known some of these friends for many years and greatly respect their commitment as the unpaid directors of the organization, accountable to the membership.
The Clearwater Country is a remarkable place—one that I fell in love with at first sight. From the breaks of the Salmon to the Bitterroot crest, it is the north half of the wildest region in the lower 48 States. The Selway, Lochsa, South Fork Clearwater, and Rapid Rivers are among America’s greatest. Old growth cedar, salmon, steelhead, bull trout, wolverine, lynx, and even the rare great bear call this place home. And the threats have never been greater—global warming at an accelerating pace, federal agencies captured by special interests, the body politic in shambles, and rapid population growth in the West put wildlands at risk.
Amidst this all, FOC has stood steadfast and spoken truth to power.
Both staff and membership have achieved some important protection of wild places. The development of roadless areas—crucial habitat for many species—has largely been thwarted. We have stopped, at least temporarily, a large timber sale in the Lolo Creek drainage, a place important for steelhead and fisher. Fish Lake, in the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness, will shortly be free from motorized use. These are just some of the recent successes. We must stay vigilant as success tends to be temporary and losses tend to be permanent.
It would be remiss of me to forgo asking for your continuing support in this time of change, financial and/or as a volunteer. Expenses are increasing. While staff salaries have grown over the years, they are still very modest. Further, the board is evaluating organizational needs with an eye to hiring another staff member.
It is my sincere hope that your generosity will keep FOC going strong in the years to come. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so on our website here.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the FOC members and supporters, conservation colleagues, and friends who have enriched my life and spoken out for wild country, wild rivers, and wildlife. You have all been an inspiration to me. I may see you on some backcountry trail or volunteering with me in the FOC office in the future. We will be having a retirement party the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, May 29th, at the 1912 Center in Moscow.
I hope to see you then!
Fish Lake Trail Win!
Judge Winmill reaffirms motorized trails in Recommended Wilderness are violation of federal law and Forest Plan
On March 13, U.S. District Court Judge Winmill ruled that the Forest Service violated its Clearwater National Forest Plan as well as the U.S Forest Service’s Travel Management Rule for allowing motorized vehicles into the Fish Lake part of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness. The Forest Service recommended Congress designate the locale as wilderness in 1987. Friends of the Clearwater challenged the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan for Recommended Wilderness in 2021 to protect Fish Lake, the Fish Lake Trail, and other areas of the Forest from motorized use harmful to bull trout, grizzly bear, elk, and other species. Friends of the Clearwater is represented by John Mellgren of the Western Environmental Law Center and David Bahr of Bahr Law Offices, both in Eugene, Oregon.
This win was a long time coming. A 2015 case ruled that the Clearwater National Forest’s travel plan did not comply with federal law. Rather than abide by the court’s ruling and its own Forest Plan, the Forest Service continued harming wildlife and again violated the plan when, in 2017, the agency decided to allow motorized use on the trail to Fish Lake, in a recommended wilderness area. The Forest Service has had over seven years to correct the unlawful deficiencies with the Travel Plan and did nothing. This decision confirms the earlier ruling that allowing motorized trail use in these areas is unlawful.
The decision recognizes that the Forest Service utterly failed to follow the Travel Management Rule and the Forest Plan. This suggests motorized use on the entire Clearwater National Forest has no legal basis. But we are currently waiting to hear Judge Winmill’s remedy – and the extent to which the Forest Service will have to reign in their motorized trails on recommended wilderness.
You can read the press release on our website here.
Thank you to everyone for your continued support. Wins like these show just how much good we can accomplish together.