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Saturday, October 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest officials get earful about forest plan

Members of a U.S. Forest Service fire crew girdle conifer trees as part of a project to rejuvenate aspen stands on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The project was funded by grants from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Department of Fish and Game. (U.S. Forest Service / COURTESY)
Members of a U.S. Forest Service fire crew girdle conifer trees as part of a project to rejuvenate aspen stands on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. The project was funded by grants from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Idaho Department of Fish and Game. (U.S. Forest Service / COURTESY)
By Eric Barker The Lewiston Tribune

U.S. Forest Service officials met with about 150 people in Lewiston and Moscow on Saturday during informational meetings on the agency’s draft plan outlining future management of the 4-million-acre Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

A protest prior to the Moscow meeting at the Best Western Plus University Inn was attended by about 35 people advocating for stronger environmental standards. The protest was organized by the environmental group Friends of the Clearwater.

Those who attended the protest held signs with slogans such as “Protect Roadless Areas” and “Logging is not Restoration.”

“The Forest Service has had 30 years to live up to the past plans and they haven’t yet,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for the group. “Yet this new plan proposal is even worse. It has no accountability.”

Cass Davis of Moscow held a sign that read “Respect Biodiversity / Life Depends on It.” He said the agency that is supposed to manage forests based on science worries too much about economic endeavors such as logging.

“The economy gives us jobs and money, but ecology is that which sustains life itself, and year after year we have to show up and try to teach scientists in the Forest Service basic science 101,” Davis said.

Linwood Laughy of Moscow said he is eyeing the draft plan to make sure it includes strong standards that protect things like water quality and spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead.

“I’m going to be looking for standards,” he said. “If they just say ‘We’re going to do our best,’ that is not good enough.”

Following the protest, the meeting attended by about 100 people turned briefly tense when Brett Haverstick, education and outreach director for Friends of the Clearwater, interrupted Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert multiple times during her short presentation. Haverstick asked Probert several questions, including why Moscow had not previously been the site of meetings about development of the plan.

“This community has been shafted!” Haverstick shouted at one point.

Some attendees verbally supported his comments; some agency officials and other attendees voiced displeasure with the disruption of Probert’s presentation.

Both meetings were held with an open-house format, where agency experts interact with the members of the public on a one-on-one basis so they can ask questions and learn about the plan. The format doesn’t afford attendees the chance to make public oral comments like they would in a public hearing, or to ask questions during presentations.

The draft plan and associated environmental impact statement, about 2,600 pages in length, covers several topics. It includes four alternatives that differ in the amount of logging they call for, the number of acres that are recommended for wilderness designation, and the number of streams and rivers to potentially be protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Once approved, it would guide management of the forest for the next 15 to 20 years.

Probert said the preferred alternative will be crafted after agency officials have a chance to read and analyze public comments. It could be released by next summer. The public comment period runs through April 20.

She said access to the forest and recreation are the top topics she has heard about during previous meetings on the draft plan.

“It’s important to communities and community sustainability,” she said.

At the Lewiston meeting, attended by about 50 people, Bob Anderson said he would like to see the agency fix and maintain the Coolwater Ridge Road and other roads, such as Big Fog and Indian Hill, which provide access to high elevations areas and backcountry trailheads above the Selway River. The roads, once open to full-sized vehicles, have been damaged by landslides and are now accessible only by all-terrain vehicles. He said they are important to hikers, hunters and other forest visitors.

“They used to maintain the roads,” he said.

Doug Zenner, a Nez Perce County commissioner who lives on Mission Creek, said he wants the agency to address fire danger: “I’m big into fuel reduction, so I would like to see better forest health management.”

Mark Jennings, a member of the group Public Lands Access Year-round, or PLAY, said continued access for motorized recreation tops his list of concerns. He has participated in the forest plan revision process that restarted in 2012, after several fits and starts.

“It’s really good to see there is a big turnout,” he said. “In the past I’ve been to a lot of these, and there isn’t a lot of public participation.”

In Moscow, Elliott Moffett said habitat is a key concern and that he’d like to see wildlife crossings along U.S. Highway 12 to reduce traffic-related animal mortality. Moffett is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and a leader of the group Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment.

“I’m worried about species diversity,” he said. “We are concerned they are not creating diverse enough habitat.”

The draft plan and environmental impact statement are available at bit.ly/NezClearFPR.

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