IRU files suit to protect Selway River Wild and Scenic values

Idaho Rivers United and Lowell, Idaho property owners filed in federal district court today to protect Wild and Scenic values along the Selway River, one of the nation’s first and most prized Wild and Scenic rivers. 

The Idaho Department of Lands is proposing to log approximately 6.89 million board feet of timber from 142 acres on the west side of the Selway River 2.7 miles upriver from Lowell, near Swiftwater Bridge. 

IRU’s lawsuit, filed by Advocates for the West Director of Litigation Laird Lucas and private Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson, charges the U.S. Forest Service with illegally determining that the road accessing state land there is a “public road” and with failing to conduct any analysis on adverse impacts the action could have on the Selway Wild and Scenic River 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. “Here we have an example of the Forest Service once again ignoring its Congressional mandate to ensure that Wild and Scenic rivers are protected on behalf of all Americans.”

For approximately 740 feet, forest road 652 crosses private property owned by Morgan and Olga Wright, who are co-plaintiffs with IRU. The Wrights’ property is encumbered by two easements held by the Forest Service: a 1937 right-of-way for forest road 652 and a 1976 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.”

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 environment protection.”

Had the Forest Service taken this into account, it would have conducted an environmental study to determine, at a minimum, how 1,000-plus logging trucks would impact Wild and Scenic values on the portion of forest road 652 for which it has an easement on the Wrights’ property.

Moreover, the scale and scope of the proposed timber sale cries out for environmental study to ensure compliance with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as to ensure that the Wrights’ property is not harmed. 

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. Many of the slopes in question are extremely steep, and 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.

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the Forest Service’s decision that forest road 652 is a “public road” and asks the court to rule that a special use permit is required to undertake commercial log hauling on the road, as well as to grant further relief in order to protect the Wild and Scenic Selway River.