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Twentymile Project

The view from Sourdough Ridge. Anonymous photo.

Twentymile Project: Wildfire emergency or public land cash grab?

The project area is just above the purple coded Gospel-Hump Wilderness. Although not the largest project in recent memory (or even in the South Fork) this proposal flies in the face of due process and further fragments the ecosystem.
The wildland urban interface. Note that a total of THREE structures occupy the extreme northern boundary of the project area, circled in red by FOC.


The Twentymile Project is a proposed timber sale deep in the Nez Perce National Forest, bordered on one side by the South Fork of the Clearwater and the other by the Gospel-Hump Wilderness. The Forest Service (FS) has proposed over 2,200 acres of logging, 88% of which are effectively clearcuts. They have also proposed nearly 7,000 acres of prescribed burning (including in old-growth forest), 36 miles of road maintenance, and 10 miles of new road construction. The FS claims this is necessary to protect rural communities from wildfire and improve forest conditions.

This boilerplate justification is nonsense. Twentymile Creek is uninhabited by people, literally borders wilderness, a full 20 river miles (hence the name) from Elk City, the nearest town. What they are not willing to say is that this remote, heavily forested, and largely unroaded watershed has big trees to sell and they think they can get away with it.

Of the logging units, eleven areas greater than 40 acres have been requested, with the largest opening at a staggering 642 acres (that’s over a square mile clearcut in the heart of the South Fork wildlands). Large-scale openings of this type are disastrous for forest cover dependent species like lynx and fisher, and fragment whatever habitat remains.

Sadly, this is part of a growing trend, which you can read more about these supersized clearcuts in our Clearcut Kings report.

Why is the Forest Service calling this an emergency?

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) includes both funding for and reduced oversight of  forest management actions pertaining to protection of private property and natural resources. So-called “Emergency Action Determinations” outlined in the law shortcut public input and rigorous environmental analysis.

The FS is requesting an Emergency Action Determination from Sec. Of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for this project. If approved, the Twentymile Project will not be subject to the objection review process. This may be your only chance to comment, so it is paramount to show forceful public reaction now.

Comments are due May 5th, 2023.

The Forest Service argument is that this project, which lies entirely within one of 250 so-called “High Risk Firesheds”, is necessary to reduce wildfire impacts on nearby communities by reducing fuel loads and increasing road access.

To be clear: roadbuilding, thinning, and clearcutting do not reduce the likelihood, intensity, or rate of spread of wildfire. Logging far from any private parcels, settlements, and structures protects no one and misleads the very people they hope to protect. It is blatant misinformation designed to paint wildfire as a disease and industrial extraction as a cure. Neither claim is true. To suggest this project will protect anyone is a violation of public trust.

Three-toed woodpeckers, like the one pictured here, live largely off of wood-boring beetle larvae. As recently as 2020, they were documented nesting within the project area. The FS views bark beetles and other native insects as pests, not part of nature’s web.  Terry Gray photo.

How can I comment?

Please comment using the Forest Service website: https://cara.fs2c.usda.gov/Public//CommentInput?Project=61355

In our experience, the Forest Service takes personally written comments more seriously than scripts from an organization. Any personal experience you have in or adjacent to the project area is a great addition.

We strongly recommend using some of the following facts to inform your comments*:

1. An Emergency Declaration is unwarranted. Labelling a standard logging project an emergency action is a misuse of government authority. Fire, insects, and disease are markers of any wild forest, not a cause for evading analysis and public participation.

2. Wildfire cannot be mitigated, controlled, or diminished by logging or thinning. In fact, larger openings can (as a secondary driver) increase fire intensity and rate of spread. This argument was used only ten air miles away, in 2019’s Orogrande Community Fuels Reduction Project, in which a 200+ acre fuel break did not stop a wildfire that started west of the project in 2022 after logging was complete. More human infrastructure also increases the likelihood of human-caused ignition.

3. An Environmental Assessment (EA) is not good enough. An EIS, or Environmental Impact Study, is required to acknowledge and analyze the negative impacts of large-scale extraction projects.

4. This project accelerates the climate crisis. Intact, unlogged, mature and old-growth forests are a carbon store, one of the most cost-efficient “technologies” on Earth. Logging, including associated roadbuilding, thinning, and slash-burning pollutes our atmosphere and worsens the climate crisis. Logging is the leading carbon emitter on our national forests, far and above wildfire.

5. This project accelerates the biodiversity crisis. Protecting rare species requires both high-quality “core” habitat and well-protected “corridors” to travel between. This project knowingly degrades habitat connectivity, which is crucial for rare carnivores like lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bears. In particular, the area offers excellent habitat for fisher, a rare forest-dependent weasel that deserves protection.

6. Road use in the area has legal restrictions. Previous timber sales in part of the area (Wing Creek-Twentymile) were completed with stipulations to limit motorized use of the area. This project is to liquidate the big trees that remain. It also may be illegal under the 1978 law that established the Gospel-Hump Wilderness.

7. Fish habitat will be harmed by this proposed project. Twentymile Creek is considered a stronghold for Westslope cutthroat trout. Downstream, the South Fork of the Clearwater supports populations of other rare fish, including steelhead, bull trout, and chinook salmon.

8. Burning old-growth forests is unacceptable. Old-growth forest habitats are defined by long-term evolution outside of human management and under centuries of constant natural disturbances. Human-caused fires are not a replacement for natural cycles. Attempts to create thousands of acres of elk and deer forage at the expense of rare old-growth forest species is simply unethical. In addition, the 1987 Forest Plans for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests require 10% old-growth forest wide, which almost certainly is not met.

* If you want sources for any of these claims, please email us and we would be happy to provide them.

Comment NowClick Here

What next steps can I take?

If you finish you comment and want to help more, please share this webpage with your circle via email or social media. The web address of this page is www.friendsoftheclearwater.org/twentymile/

Second, consider writing a letter to the Department of Agriculture. Secretary Tom Vilsack has yet (as of 4-25-23) to approve the emergency declaration. You can send letters to:

Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250 

Third, consider becoming a member. Friends of the Clearwater acts as the first line of defense in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. We have two full time staff dedicated to fighting bad projects like this and keeping Idaho WILD. If you are interested please visit www.friendsoftheclearwater.org/donate/