My wife and I own a home on the banks of the Selway River near Kooskia. In June, along with Idaho Rivers United, we filed a federal lawsuit against the Forest Service. That lawsuit was the focus of the scorn of Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik in his recent guest opinion “Is group raising money or protecting the land?” He is sorely misinformed over some basic facts.
Neither my wife and I, nor the not-for-profit Idaho Rivers United will get a dime if we prevail in this lawsuit. We have asked for no money. My wife and I brought the lawsuit to defend our private property — our home — and to protect the Selway River, the crown jewel of our Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Likewise, in keeping with its mission, Idaho Rivers United also seeks to protect this irreplaceable resource.
We believe the Forest Service has violated the law by giving permission to the Idaho Department of Lands to use a road across my private property, which is protected by a scenic easement, for a commercial timber sale. The clear-cut sale planned by the state on the banks of the Selway is likely to cause massive landslides and erosion in the exceptionally steep terrain of the river corridor. In fact, the Forest Service abandoned plans for a similar timber harvest in the 1960s over the same resource concerns.
So far, the federal court agrees we are likely to succeed on the merits. It recently issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the use of the road across my property in connection with the timber sale. If we do prevail, it will be because the court found that the Forest Service violated the law. And as prevailing parties, our attorneys would be entitled to seek reasonable attorneys fees for the time spent on the case.
However, in Mr. Chmelik’s words: We “seek only one thing, the grotesque profit associated with the Equal Access to Justice Act and [our] ability to suck funds from the American taxpayer to support a for-profit enterprise that has no concern for the environment.”
Nothing could be further from reality or the truth. We will gain no profits from this lawsuit. Further, Idaho Rivers United is an outstanding nonprofit environmental group that has done extraordinary work to protect Idaho’s rivers. Perhaps Mr. Chmelik needs to reflect further on his misguided quest for “what is true, right, noble and just.” He has a long way to go. In the meanwhile, we are asking the court to require the Forest Service to follow the law, respect my property rights and protect the Selway River.
Morgan Wright lives in Kooskia.