A sportsmen’s group has sued the U.S. Forest Service in federal court over a road in an area proposed for wilderness protection near Cascade.
Boise National Forest Supervisor David Rittenhouse earlier conceded the department made a mistake in approving an access road in the Snowbank Mountain Roadless Area, blaming it on a mapping error. But the agency then ruled that logging on 315 acres there by Boise Cascade Corp. can proceed anyway.
The Idaho Sporting Congress filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Boise against Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck and Rittenhouse, charging they have violated federal regulations that require public comment in such an instance.
The group said the Forest Service itself describes the 35,660-acre Snowbank area as a refuge for big game in the fall and a buffer to the effects of land development. Hikers discovered the new road last October.
The sale and the road are not covered by Dombeck’s proposal for an 18-month moratorium on road-building in roadless areas. The sale was completed before the proposal.
“Accident or not, they should back out of Snowbank,” said attorney Bernard Zahela, representing the Sporting Congress. “But Rittenhouse refuses, saying he has a contract with Boise Cascade to surrender cheap, taxpayer-subsidized trees to them, and the public be damned.”
The agency determined the timber sale would affect an 885-acre portion of the roadless area, about 2 percent.
That left 98 percent of the area suitable for wilderness designation, Rittenhouse said, so he decided to let the sale stand.
Congress Executive Director Ron Mitchell said Boise Cascade has portrayed the timber sale as only thinning small trees to help prevent fires, while the land actually holds mature to old-growth conifers.
Boise National officials had just heard about the suit, spokesman Brian Harris said Friday.
But he added it is timely because it brings attention to what a roadless designation means. The agency may decide to take some actions such as cutting in a roadless plot, but those activities already are spelled out in the Boise Forest management plan and have gone through the public comment process, he said.
“The forest plan says we can do an ‘X’ number of things in some roadless areas, but not all roadless areas,” Harris said.
A regional Forest Service investigative team will come to Boise this week to review the situation, he said.
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