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Clearwater National Forest proposes fee increases

PUBLIC LANDS — Anyone who'd been paying attention to the federal budget and cutbacks in recreation funding shouldn't be surprised at today's announcement from the Clearwater National Forest. Officials propose to raise fees at 29 campgrounds and cabin/lookout rentals.

Nez Perce–Clearwater National Forests Propose Recreation Fee Increases

Recreation managers at the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have struggled over the past ten years to keep campgrounds, cabins and lookout rentals open without raising fees during a time when budgets have significantly declined resulting in staff and service reductions.  Over the last two years those managers completed a Recreation Facilities Analysis (RFA) to determine how the forest can maintain a sustainable program during severely declining budgets, while still providing the high quality recreation experiences our visitors’ desire. 

Read on for the options, and the inevitable fee increases they propose:

Time to reserve forest cabins, lookouts for summer

PUBLIC LANDS — Most rentals for cabins and fire lookouts on national forests and parks are reserved on a national reservation system that allows the public to book dates no more than 180 days in advance.

Check out the National Recreation Reservation Service online or call (877) 444-6777 for a complete list of facilities, to check available dates or to make reservations for most federal facilities nationwide.

Click here for details on an exception to the national reservation system: the lottery for reserving the Red Ives Cabin, a modernized drive-up facility on the St. Joe River. Applications are due by the end of February.

  • Quartz Mountain Lookout in Mount Spokane State Park is a hot local item with a premium price of $88 a night for a room with a view. Reservations are accepted up to nine months in advance for the June 15-Oct. 15 season. Make reservations by phone at (888) 226-7688. 

Indeed, if you're making plans for prime time this summer, it's time to get your act together if you hope to reserve a night in a popular room with a view.

Read on for specific information regarding cabins and lookouts in the Idaho Panhandle and Clearwater national forests, including Kelly Creek areas.

Clearwater over-snow travel maps out in January

WINTER SPORTS — Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests plan to have the Clearwater Over Snow  Vehicle Use Maps (OSVUMs) available to the public by mid-January.

At that, forest officials plan implementation road and area closures that will be spelled out on the map. 

OSVUMs are the winter travel map for the Clearwater National Forest. The Clearwater Motor Vehicle Use Map designating forest roads, trails and areas open to motor vehicle use has been available since November, 2013 and is posted on the forest's website.  

Read on for the explanation forest officials gave in a media release:

Counties challenge Clearwater National Forest travel plan in court

PUBLIC LANDS — A week after conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit against the new Clearwater National Forest Travel Management Plan, two Idaho counties have filed suit against the plan that closes 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles.

Idaho and Clearwater counties charge that forest officials failed to adequately consult with local authorities while drafting the travel plan enacted last year.

County officials also claim forest planners didn’t properly analyze the plan’s local economic impact and allege the forest created de facto wilderness areas by banning motorcycles and mountain bikes from areas previously recommended for wilderness.

“We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune. “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.”

Forest officials did not offer an immediate response sought by The Associated Press today on the new legal challenge.

Commissioners from both counties say they were compelled to file a lawsuit after their administrative appeal of the travel plan was denied by the agency.

The lawsuit is the latest filed against the forest and its 2012 travel policy.

Last week, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan allows too much access for motorized vehicles, a policy they say will ultimately harm wildlife habitat. The environmental groups allege the travel plan violates a 1987 plan by allowing motorized vehicle use in areas the agency had pledged to protect as prime habitat for elk.

Federal laws require agencies like the Forest Service to coordinate their actions and plans with state and local governments.

The case brought by the counties alleges agency officials made little effort to coordinate the travel plan with the counties, who favor more motorized access when possible.

“We didn’t really see any attempt to do that,” Ebert told the Morning Tribune. “They just sort of disregarded us.”

Clearwater travel plan challenged by conservationists

PUBLIC LANDS — Three conservation groups say they filed a lawsuit on Dec. 5th in Idaho Federal District Court challenging the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan. The recently released plan determines which trails and roads will be open to motorized vehicles and which areas of the national forest will be open to snowmobiles.

The plan defers the decision on the ultimate size and extent of the road system.

The Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Sierra Club contend that rather than protect key wildlife habitat and wild areas, as prescribed in the forest plan, the travel plan allows motorized vehicles to enter sensitive wildlife habitat in the
backcountry on trails not designed for motorized use.
The organizations also contend that the travel plan does not minimize summer or winter off-road vehicle damage or minimize damage to wildlife habitat, watersheds or quiet recreation.
Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater says the 1987 Clearwater National Forest plan was supposed to protect the natural resources with its specific standards set for the protection of wildlife in certain backcountry areas. 
“Since then, motorized vehicles have been essentially unregulated on backcountry trails, severely degrading both terrestrial and aquatic habitat," he said. "Roadless areas that are prime wilderness candidates, including Weitas Creek and Pot Mountain, have
been overrun with motorized use.”
The plaintiffs note that the Forest Service did not even fully protect its limited recommended wilderness
from motorized vehicles. “Even the biologically unique Fish Lake in Kelly Creek, an area recommended for wilderness by the Forest Service, was not protected from vehicle use," says Al Poplawsky of the Sierra Club. "The resource damage from vehicle use in this area has been so serious that the Forest Service has had to close the trail during wet periods in recent years. The trail to the lake and areas around the lake are littered with vehicle parts and broken glass. It would make more sense to just close the entire area to vehicle use.”

Clearwater Forest releases motorized vehicle use map

PUBLIC LANDS — The Clearwater National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) has been released to guide where motor vehicles can be used on the forest.  

The published maps, which answer frequently asked questions about roads and trails open to motorized traffic, are available online and free at the forest headquarters in Orofino and at other offices.

In 2005 the U.S. Forest Service published a new rule requiring each national forest and grassland to designate those national forest system roads, trails and areas open to motor vehicle use.  It further required designated routes and areas to be identified on an MVUM that is available to the public free-of-charge.

On January 12, 2012, after nearly four years of public involvement and analysis, the Clearwater National Forest issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision that designated roads, trails and areas where motorized uses are allowed.

Read on for more details from the Forest Service.

It’s official: Clearwater, Nez Perce forests to merge

PUBLIC LANDS — In the making for several years, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to consolidate the Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests into one administrative office and create a new headquarters for the merger in the small, timber town of Kamiah.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the decision Monday, culminating more than eight years of study and planning. Agency officials say the merger could save up to $2 million annually by combining administrative positions and ending duplication of services between the two forests.

Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said despite the new headquarters in Kamiah, the agency would continue to have a presence in Grangeville and Orofino, cities that once served as home bases for the two forests. In Grangeville, he said there could be 50 to 60 people continuing to work out of that office, the Lewiston Tribune reported .

Read on for more details.

Motorized users sue to drive through Great Burn wilderness study area

PUBLIC LANDS — The Blue Ribbon Coalition and the Idaho Snowmobile Association filed a lawsuit against the Clearwater National Forest for its travel plan that bans motorcycles, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles and mountain bikes in the Great Burn wilderness study area on the Idaho-Montana border, according to a story by the Idaho Statesman.

“Only Congress can designate wilderness. We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands.”

Sandra Mitchell, public lands director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association.

“I see this as full frontal assault on wilderness. They are making essentially the argument that the Forest Service doesn’t have the power to protect wilderness character as a multiple use of public lands”

Brad Brooks, deputy regional director of the Wilderness Society in Boise.

Pick huckleberries without damaging plant, Forest Service pleads

NATIVE PLANTS — The huckleberry bush, the most revered shrub in the Inland Northwest, is getting less respect as berry pickers succumb to greed.

Practices are getting so bad, the Forest Service has issued a media release warning that recently observed practices — such as CUTTING OFF A BUSH SO BERRIES COULD BE MORE EASILY PICKED — are against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

My god.

It's safe to say most huckleberry plant abusers aren't among the families returning to their favorite huckleberry hot spots generation after generation.  None of these people wants to damage plants and reduce the harvest of future years.

However, many people may not realize the senseless and improper use of rake-like huckleberry pickers also damages the berry bushes. 

Meanwhile, read on for more information on the latest damaging practices reported by the Forest Service.

Clearwater’s Fish Lake Trail temporarily closed to motorized vehicles

OFF-ROADING — The popular Fish Lake Trail #419, located 15 miles south of Hoodoo Pass, near the Idaho-Montana state line, has closed temporarily to motorized traffic, Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest officials announced today.

Wet conditions forced the closure to prevent motor vehicles from causing damage to the trail and fragile high alpine meadows on the lake’s western edge.

Forest officials will reopen Trail #419 as soon as the waterlogged trail has dried out, firmed up and is once again suitable for recreational use.

For updates: Clearwater National Forest Information Desk, (208) 476-8267.

Time to reserve forest cabins, lookouts

PUBLIC LANDS — Most rentals for cabins and fire lookouts on national forests and parks are reserved on a national reservation system that allows the public to book dates no more than 180 days in advance.

Check out the National Recreation Reservation Service online or call (877) 444-6777 for a complete list of facilities, to check available dates or to make reservations for most federal facilities nationwide.

Click here for details on an exception to the national reservation system: the lottery for reserving the Red Ives Cabin on the St. Joe River.

Indeed, if you're making plans for prime time this summer, it's time to get your act together if you hope to reserve a night in a popular room with a view.

Read on for specific information regarding cabins and lookouts in the Clearwater National Forest, including Kelly Creek areas.

Lochsa historic ranger station victim of Forest Service cuts

NATIONAL FORESTS — Reduced recreation funding on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests will keep the Lochsa Historic Ranger Station from opening its doors this summer, according to a report by the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

The log structure on the Lochsa River, about 48 miles east of Kooskia, depicts life at remote Forest Service ranger stations in the 1920s and ’30s. It is normally open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and staffed by volunteers.

Rick Brazell, forest supervisor, told the Tribune the site is a victim of the severe cuts to the recreation budgets for the two forests.

"It is either close that or close campgrounds," he said. "It’s an interpretive site which is very good to have, but it’s not a destination site where people spend days."

Read on for the rest of the story by Tribune outdoor writer Eric Barker:

Clearwater Forest plan would limit motorized use of trails

PUBLIC LANDS — About 200 miles of trails and more than 1 million acres of the Clearwater National Forest will close to motorized users under a new travel management plan released Wednesday.

See all the official forest documents on the travel plan here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests also is revisiting its forest management plan. See today's S-R story.

Read on for the report on the Clearwater forest plan proposal from the Lewiston Tribune.

Idaho’s Fish Lake Trail temporarily closed to motor vehicles

TRAILS — A popular Bitterroot Mountains destination for ATVers up from the North Fork of the Clearwater River has been closed to motorized traffic temporarily because of lingering snow and wet conditions, the Clearwater National Forest says.

Fish Lake Trail 419, located 15 miles south of Hoodoo Pass near the Idaho-Montana state line, is closed to motor vehicles to prevent damage to the trail and fragile high alpine meadows on the lake’s western edge, where ATVers like to congregate.

The trail is still snow-covered in many places, said Adam McClory, the Clearwater's North Zone recreation staff officer.  The dispersed campsites located near the lake are also under snow.

McClory said that Forest officials hope to reopen the trail in mid-August.

  • For updates on road and trail conditions, contact the Clearwater National Forest Information Desk, (208) 476-8267.

Pack goat group works on Lewis and Clark Trail

PUBLIC LANDS — A Clearwater National Forest Service crew leader and 23 volunteers from the North American Pack Goat Association made major improvements to an Idaho stretch of the Lewis and Clark National HistoricTrail last weekend.

The organization established in 2001 to promote packing with pack goats, cleared brush and wind-felled trees from 2 ½ miles of Clearwater Forest’s Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, between Small Prairie Camp and the Dollar Creek Bridge. 

The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail runs 3,700 miles from Wood River, Ill., to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

Info: Northwest Packgoats in Weippe,  Idaho.

Roading plans threaten Kelly Creek cutts, angler says

FISHERIES — A man with his eyes on proposed development in the Clearwater National Forest issued an alert this week in the Letters to the Editor section of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.   Read on if you're a fan of the westslope cutthroat trout that lure fly fishers to Kelly Creek.

Clearwater Forest construction will challenge summer visitors

NATIONAL FORESTS — Federal stimulus funding will continue to be a big boost for the Clearwater National Forest infrastructure this year, but contruction could cause some headaches for camper and anglers headed to Kelly Creek and other areas in the North Fork District.

 “This is going to be a challenging summer to get around on the North Fork, for the public as well as the Forest Service,” said Heather Berg, North Fork District ranger in Orofino. “I would hate for someone to drive a long distance to find their way blocked by one of these projects. I want to get the word out now, and I encourage folks to plan ahead. Be sure to call Forest offices for current information.”

Read on for details and scheduled construction.

Forest Service names new Palouse District Ranger

NATIONAL FORESTS — Susan Shaw, a Forest Service manager of planning, lands and minerals in Tennessee, has been named the new district ranger for the Clearwater National Forest's Palouse Ranger District headquartered in Potlatch, Idaho.

Shaw has worked for the agency in several locations as a forester, environmental coordinator, timber and silviculture officer, fish and wildlife officer and manager of  cultural and historic properties.

A district press release said Shaw enjoys windsurfing, whitewater rafting, skiing on water and snow, reading, and remodeling houses.

Forest plan sweetens Lochsa land swap deal

NATIONAL FORESTS — Officials with the Clearwater National Forest are floating a plan to buy a big chunk of private timber land in the upper Lochsa River basin as one way to curry public favor for a land exchange with a private company.

The proposed purchase is one of several options outlined in an environmental impact statement issued by the agency this month on the Upper Lochsa Land Exchange.

Get ready for public open house meetings:

  • Jan. 11 at Latah County Fairgrounds in Moscow, 1 p.m.-7 p.m. 
  • Jan. 12 at Clearwater National Forest Supervisor's Office, 1 p.m.-7 p.m. 
Read on for the Associated Press story with more details.