Federal judge grants emergency protection for Selway River

(Selway River photo by Tim Palmer)

BOISE—A federal judge in Boise affirmed Wild and Scenic values today when he blocked, for now, a proposal to haul logs through part of the Selway River Wild and Scenic corridor.

“The Selway is a national treasure, and the Forest Service has to protect the numerous values that lead to its Wild and Scenic designation,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “Our lawsuit focuses on a specific issue, but the big picture is about upholding Wild and Scenic values. Wild and Scenic rivers are our nation’s most precious, prized and celebrated rivers, and they deserve our utmost care and consideration.”

In granting the injunction, which effectively blocks road access to a state of Idaho timber sale, Federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that IRU and co-plaintiffs were likely win, that irreparable harm was likely, that the balance of equities were in plaintiffs’ favor and that an injunction was in the public interest.

“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.”

IRU and Lowell, Idaho property owners Morgan and Olga Wright filed in Federal District Court in Boise May 19 to challenge a U.S. Forest Service determination that a road accessing state land along the Selway is a “public road,” as well as with failing to conduct any analysis on the adverse impacts that logging and logging traffic would have on the Selway Wild and Scenic River corridor. 

IRU is represented by Advocates for the West Director of Litigation Laird Lucas. The Wrights are represented by Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson.

For approximately 740 feet, forest road 652 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.”

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 Forest Service’s Wild and Scenic corridor management plan for the Selway, Lochsa and Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers states that “access roads to serve private lands are to be controlled by scenic easements to ensure compatibility with development of the special planning area and with river environmental protection.”

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,” Lucas said. “The court was right to protect the Selway’s Wild and Scenic values, and its steelhead fisheries, from this irresponsible proposal.”

“While I am pleased with Judge Winmill’s decision, I am equally displeased by the government’s illegal actions that forced this issue into litigation,” Lewis said. “Idahoans and citizens across this nation expect our government to follow the law and protect our special landscapes as Congress has directed.”

Click here to read the judge's order.