A federal judge halted road construction and logging on an Idaho County fire-burned timber sale worth $2 million for the Idaho public school endowment fund to protect the wild and scenic values of the Selway River.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a request Friday by Idaho Rivers United and Lowell property owners Morgan and Olga Wright who challenged a U.S. Forest Service determination that a road accessing state land along the Selway is a “public road.” The salvage operations were scheduled to begin today.
“The court therefore finds that the potential harm to the Selway River if the injunction is not granted outweighs the hardships caused by any delay to State,” Winmill wrote. “An injunction here would be in the public interest as it would recognize the protections for the Wild and Scenic River corridor.”
State officials said the trees’ value will drop significantly if they are not salvage logged soon.
“We respect the rule of law, and will continue to pursue all legal remedies to ensure this public school endowment forest and the water that surrounds it stay healthy so the forest can provide financial benefits for this generation and future generations of Idaho school children,” Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz said.
The road crosses private property owned by the Wrights, whose land is encumbered by two easements held by the Forest Service: a 1937 right-of-way for forest road 652 and a 1977 scenic easement under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Forest road 652 is not passable by automobile beyond the Wrights’ property.
“The reason I bought property and built a house on the bank of the Selway River was because of its incredible beauty, but also because of the protections afforded by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” Morgan Wright said. “Being locked out of a Forest Service decision-making process that affects the value of my land is patently offensive and un-American.”
Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson, the Wrights’ attorney, stressed that the case is also about upholding property rights.
“The court’s injunction against the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands protects private property rights,” she said. “These are rights that we, as Idahoans, hold dear, against improper government influence.”
The state is proposing to build more than 3 miles of new roads on extremely steep, unstable slopes with seven switchbacks within a mile of the Selway River. Road construction will require removal of 18,520 cubic yards of native rock and soil on site, essentially creating a waste area in the Selway Wild and Scenic River corridor.
“Independent and Forest Service experts all agree this Idaho Department of Lands project threatens to cause massive erosion and landslides into the Selway River,” said Laird Lucas, who represents Idaho Rivers United.
But state officials said in addition to the threat to the wood’s quality, the lawsuit will delay reforestation work necessary to protect against soil erosion of fire-damaged areas. The logging would remove 6.8 million board feet of timber near Lowell in Idaho County that burned in the Johnson Bar Fire in 2014.