Logging OK'd in badly damaged forest - Judge Lodge says Forest Service has done proper analysis in Iron Honey sale; environmental groups plan to appeal

From staff reports


COEUR d'ALENE, IDAHO -- A federal judge is allowing the U.S. Forest Service to cut more trees from one of the most badly damaged forests in the Northwest.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Lodge ruled Friday that the 1,400-acre timber sale in the headwaters of the Little North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River can proceed because the Forest Service had done a proper analysis of how logging would affect the area.

The environmental groups that filed the lawsuit in October aren't surprised by the decision and plan to file an appeal today. The appeal will also ask the court to bar any cutting until a ruling is made.

The groups insist that logging will harm the sole source of drinking water for 400,000 people in Coeur d'Alene and Spokane.

"Water is a huge issue," said Mike Petersen, executive director of The Lands Council. "We look at this sale as the poster child of what a bad timber sale is."

Forest Service officials counter that the timber sale will pay for restoration work in a watershed damaged by a century of logging and road-building.

In a press release, Ranotta McNair, forest supervisor of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, said Iron Honey is a role model project.

"It improves fish and wildlife habitats by utilizing current forest management practices and forest science," she said.

Located just south of Lake Pend Oreille, the Iron Honey region is the headwaters for the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.

The area has one of the highest road densities for forest land in the country. Sediment in the streams has destroyed fish habitat throughout the drainage.

Twelve of 14 streams are listed by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as "at risk," and some stretches of water are unable to support aquatic life.

Last year, the Forest Service proposed a stewardship contract that allows the agency to trade timber for restoration work.

Under the contract, timber companies would pay for the work, rather than purchasing the timber.

The Forest Service said the $6 million sale will pay for the removal of 76 miles of road, as well as the repair of 176 small culverts that contribute to flooding, among other projects.

The Lands Council, which filed the lawsuit along with the Kootenai Environmental Alliance and the Ecology Center, said increased logging will cause more flooding during heavy rains and complicate the EPA's $11 million cleanup of mining waste along the Spokane River.

A century of logging and road-building eroded creek banks and removed white pine and western larch.

The Forest Service plans to replant the native trees after logging.

Petersen said that if the agency wants to restore white pine it should start in areas that have already been cut.


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