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Watchdogs Want Tree Salvage Stopped Environmental Groups’ Suit Says Forest Service Has ‘Blank Check’

A federal judge should stop the U.S. Forest Service from salvage logging in nearby roadless areas because the agency is too vague about how many trees it will take from which areas, two environmental groups contend.

The Ecology Center and the Inland Empire Public Lands Council filed suit in U.S. District Court in Boise on Friday over the ice storm salvage sales on the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District.

The Forest Service has identified 11 areas where it will sell about 8.5 million board feet of timber, some of it damaged by the 1996 ice storm. But the Forest Service also has decided it can log other unspecified areas with storm-damaged trees, under some general guidelines.

The environmental community says the fuzzy rules open the door for the chain saws to go anywhere.

“They have written themselves a blank check,” said Jeff Juel of the Ecology Center of Missoula. “They aren’t telling the public what they are doing.”

Juel also complains that it is difficult to tell how much logging will happen in roadless areas. The harvest that is specified will take timber out of the Skitwish Roadless Area - near Wolf Lodge - the Magee Roadless Area and the Teepee Creek Roadless Area - both near the historic ranger station.

“Forest Service scientists note that roadless areas, having experienced the least human disturbance, contain the best remaining fish and wildlife habitat in the region,” Juel said. “The Forest Service should exercise simple common sense and leave roadless areas alone.”

Arguments that fire danger will be lessened don’t wash, Juel said, because the logging will take the bigger trees - the very thing that survives a fire.

Forest Service officials could not be reached for comment. Agency documents say some logging is necessary to take out downed and damaged trees from the November 1996 storm.

Those damaged trees will attract insects - which then could migrate to the healthy trees. The ice storm casualties also beckon wildfires, Forest Service documents say.

The Intermountain Forest Industry Association couldn’t agree more.

“Anybody who thinks it’s environmentally sound to not clean up ice storm damage is unbalanced,” the association’s Jim Riley said. “We’re not talking about good forest policy and good environmental policy.

“This is a lot of people out demagoguing to run down an industry and promote themselves,” he said.

“If we don’t clean it up, it’s an disaster waiting to happen because of insects and wildfire damage.”

, DataTimes