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Why Clearwater country deserves better

Cayuse Creek, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests

Guest Opinion appeared in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on September 26, 2014.

The Clearwater Basin of north-central Idaho is part of the Big Wild, the best remaining intact ecosystem in the lower 48. According to a study in 2001 (Carroll et. al.) the Clearwater Basin contains the best habitat for large carnivores in the U.S. Northern Rockies and Canadian Southern Rockies. With a vast roadless base, tremendous diversity, numerous imperiled native species and ample opportunities for recreation and solitude, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is a favorite place of many and truly unique from other parts of Idaho and the West.

Recently, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests administratively combined, leading to the Forest Service seeking public comment in its attempt to merge each forest’s land management plan into a single, revised document. Public comments on the initial Forest Plan Revision are due Friday November 14.

A Forest Plan is a contract with the public that sets the desired conditions or management direction of that particular forest for the next decade. Among many things, it recommends new areas for wilderness designation, identifies native species whose viability is a concern, selects what part of the forest is suitable for logging and grazing, and establishes baselines for water quality, sensitive soils, steep slopes, old growth forests and fish and wildlife habitat.

Analysis suggests, only twenty-two percent of the remaining 1.5-million acre roadless base would be managed as recommended Wilderness in the proposed plan. Roughly eighty percent of the roadless base would be susceptible to development! Weitas Creek, Pot Mountain and Fish & Hungery Creek would receive no permanent protection. Special places like Meadow Creek and Cayuse Creek could be designated Special Management Areas and fragmented by motorized recreation. This proposal is a big step back from the 1987 Forest Plan and 1993 legal settlement, too, which resulted in approximately 500,000-acres being managed as recommended Wilderness.

A multitude of imperiled species find habitat in the northern-half of the Big Wild, including bull trout, Chinook salmon, west-slope cutthroat, fisher, wolverines and pine martens. Unfortunately, this proposal lacks a sound scientific basis for conserving these and other important species because it lacks a robust list of focal species, along with a population-monitoring program. Not surprisingly, it also omits grizzly bears as a Species of Concern.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service is positioning itself to triple the timber harvest on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. They will achieve this by lowering standards, creating loopholes, and sacrificing other values on this national forest, regardless of the best-available science. Logging could occur in riparian areas and old growth forests and allow development on sensitive soils and steep slopes. Clear-cuts could routinely be 150-acres in size. The current plan generally limits the size to 40-acres.

A key component to a Forest Plan is the ability of the public to hold the agency accountable through measurable and enforceable standards. This essentially equates to being able to challenge a decision on the national forest deemed illegal or in violation of the current Forest Plan. Quantitative standards are important for ensuring the protection of vital resources on the national forest. Streamside buffers must remain inviolate, older and mature forests must not be developed, “actual” sediment loads in streams and waterways must be monitored and never exceeded, and limits must be established for road densities. It appears the Forest Service is attempting to head in the opposite direction however, and instead, weaken or remove existing standards and guidelines in their current proposal. The 1987 Forest Plan has enforceable standards.

Your voice is needed! Consider joining Friends of the Clearwater on November 6 from 5-7 pm for a grassroots Forest Plan Revision information session in the Fiske Room of the 1912 Center in Moscow. Place-based information and maps will be available, along with refreshments. Let’s tell Supervisor Rick Brazell that the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests proposed action is short on accountability, long on platitudes and fails to adequately protect the unique Clearwater Basin.