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Friends of the Clearwater files federal suit challenging Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest policy in North Fork drainage

A black-tailed bumblebee collects pollen from a cow parsnip plant along the North Fork of the Clearwater River on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.  (Eric Barker)
A black-tailed bumblebee collects pollen from a cow parsnip plant along the North Fork of the Clearwater River on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. (Eric Barker)
By Eric Barker The Lewiston Tribune

The conservation group Friends of the Clearwater is asking a federal judge to prohibit motorized travel to Fish Lake, high in the North Fork of the Clearwater River drainage.

The suit challenges a 2017 vehicle use rule issued by Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert and claims motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle traffic threaten bull trout, grizzly bear and elk habitat.

Fish Lake sits within the Great Burn roadless area and was proposed for congressional consideration for wilderness designation in 1987. Congress hasn’t acted on the proposal.

According to a news release from the group, the lawsuit builds on a successful 2015 lawsuit it and other conservation groups filed.

In that case, a judge ruled motorized use in some areas of the forest violated elk habitat protections required by the Clearwater National Forest plan. Friends of the Clearwater allege the agency is making the same mistake again.

“Rather than abide by the court’s ruling and its own forest plan, the Forest Service continued the injury to wildlife and again violated the forest plan when, in 2017, the agency decided to allow motorized use on the trail to Fish Lake, in a recommended wilderness,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for the group.

He noted grizzly bears have been documented in the general area as recently as 2019 and one was mistakenly killed by a hunter in 2007.

“Motorized use impacts grizzlies at individual and population levels, from using habitat to selecting home ranges. Further, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service admits that motorized use also threatens the unique population of bull trout in the lake through increased fishing pressure the motorized access provides.”

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