This Guest Opinion originally appeared in Counterpunch on March 24, 2020
The Forest Service is currently accepting public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the forest plan revision on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests. The comment deadline is April 20. The National Forest Management Act (1976) mandates all national forests to have a resource management plan or forest plan. Forest plans dictate the management direction of a particular forest. The new, single plan for the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests will potentially guide management for the next few decades.
The Clearwater Basin of North Central Idaho is the northern half of the Big Wild, which is the largest undeveloped watershed complex left in the Lower 48. It is also the southern boundary of the largest known inland temperate rainforest in the world. “Wetbelt” forests contain numerous coastal disjunct species, including Western red cedar, Pacific dogwood and others. These vascular plants are similar to those found along the coastal temperate forests of Oregon, Washington and other parts north.
The Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests are home to many rare and imperiled species like bull trout, salmon, steelhead, wolverines, Canada lynx, fisher and grizzly bears. A World Wildlife Fund study (2001) identified the Clearwater Basin as having the best habitat for large carnivores, including grizzlies, in the entire U.S. Northern Rockies and Southern Canadian Rockies. Last summer, the Fish & Wildlife Service confirmed that multiple grizzly bears were in the Clearwater.
The Forest Service is, unfortunately, seeking to exponentially increase logging on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests in the new plan. Currently, the agency sells 50 to 60-million board feet annually from these forests combined. The revision, however, offers four management alternatives that exceed current levels. Two of the alternatives propose levels over 200-million board feet per year.
Current forest plans on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests contain quantitative standards. These objectives establish upper limits or thresholds to protect old-growth, sensitive soils, riparian areas, water quality and wildlife habitat. These standards are legally binding, and the Forest Service must adhere to them when planning a project.
The new draft plan grossly lacks measurable standards. Riparian zones, which currently forbid development on 300-feet of either side of a stream, would be cut in half. It would also eliminate both forest plans’ current requirements to maintain five percent old-growth and stream-specific, fishery-habitat percentages in every watershed. Eliminating quantitative standards in a forest plan aptly facilitates an increase in logging.
The proposal to drastically increase logging levels targets much of the roadless backcountry on these forests, too. There are approximately 1.5-million acres of undeveloped wildlands on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests. Along with designated Wilderness, they provide some of the best fish and wildlife habitat in the basin. Regrettably, these irreplaceable landscapes could, instead, be lost for future generations.
Friends of the Clearwater submitted a Citizen Alternative that the Forest Service has, yet, to analyze in the revision. It would ensure that quantitative standards and public accountability are included in the new forest plan, and that all remaining roadless wildlands would be off-limits to road building and logging. It also seeks to reduce carbon emissions, and promote carbon sequestration through sustainable logging levels. We need to start managing our national forests as carbon sinks, instead of as tree farms.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests comprise a very unique and special place in America. At a time when species like wild salmon and steelhead are spiraling towards extinction in Idaho, we need to increase habitat protection measures, not minimize them. Please consider submitting a public comment to the Forest Service by April 20 at firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho.