Environmental groups are trying to stop a lumber company from bulldozing a road across public land to access 558-acres of private forest.
The groups recently appealed a U.S. Forest Service decision granting Stimson Lumber Co. permission to construct about 4,000 feet of road to access its timber holdings in the Kaniksu National Forest in the northeast corner of Washington. The area is important habitat for a variety of endangered and threatened species, including grizzly bears, said Mark Sprengel, executive director of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, of Priest Lake.
Some of the road will be built through portions of the South Fork Mountain Roadless Area. Stimson would pay for the road construction but the road would be built across public land.
“It’s a giveaway of public assets,” Sprengel said.
Forest Service Spokesman Dave O’Brien said the agency was required to grant access under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Stimson sued the Forest Service in 2000 to gain access to the land. The agency approved the road-building in March.
“We have no discretion,” O’Brien said. “We have to grant the most reasonable access. All the Forest Service is doing is trying to comply with the law and respect private property rights.”
Stimson hoped to begin work on the road by midsummer, Dwight Opp, the company’s land manager said in a March interview. The road would be gated year-round and public access on motorized vehicles would be prohibited. The company also would be required to comply with a host of environmental regulations.
“We think it can be managed responsibly,” Opp said.
Stimson purchased the Sema Creek tract in 1996. The previous owner, Plum Creek Timber Co., asked for permission to build a road in 1992. The Forest Service attempted to resolve the issue by purchasing the land or by offering a land swap, O’Brien said. Stimson wasn’t interested.
The environmental groups say they are fighting the decision because little roadless forest remains in North Idaho and northeast Washington. The Forest Service should have required the company to use helicopters to pull logs from the land, not roads, Sprengel said.
“It’s really tragic because the wildlife habitat is virtually irreplaceable,” Sprengel said.
Along with the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, the following groups have signed onto the appeal: Kettle Range Conservation Group, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, The Ecology Center, Defenders of Wildlife, Idaho Conservation League, American Wildlands, Kootenai Environmental Alliance and the Lands Council.
A decision on the appeal is expected by the end of June.
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