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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Environmentalists sue over timber project in Pend Oreille County

An environmental group has sued to block a federal timber project in Pend Oreille County, arguing that the work will harm wildlife habitat and destroy big chunks of the forest.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane this week seeking to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s Sxwutn-Kaniksu Connections Trail Project, which calls for logging and burning on more than 36,000 acres in the Selkirk Mountains north of Newport.

The project, which is planned to take place over 20 years, was approved in 2021. The Forest Service has offered three timber sales that are part of the project, according to the complaint.

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance, said in a news release that the agency didn’t adequately consider the project’s impacts on the forest’s structure and its wildlife, such as wolverines, grizzly bears and Canada lynx – all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“It is deficient on so many levels that it is hard to believe the Service proceeded with the project,” Garrity said.

The group is also challenging the agency’s remapping of lynx habitat, which it says eliminated more than 230,000 acres of protected habitat for the big cats in the Colville National Forest and was designed to facilitate projects like this one.

The Sxwutn-Kaniksu Connections Trail Project includes a mix of prescribed burning and both commercial and noncommercial logging in the Selkirks east of the Pend Oreille River.

Work is planned within a 90,000-acre area beginning 4 miles north of Newport and stretching north to the Canadian Border.

Not all of that area would be affected. The project is made up of scattered treatments of commercial and noncommercial logging and prescribed burning that covers about 36,400 acres, including the Middle, Skookum and Cusick creek watersheds, among others.

The project was proposed in response to a 2017 request from the Kalispel Tribe of Indians to partner on forest health work on lands next to the Kalispel Indian Reservation. The Forest Service also worked with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to develop the project.

Julianne Nikirk, a Forest Service spokesperson, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in an email that the project is focused on “restoring healthy forests, connecting lands and people, improving watershed function, and providing economic stability.”

The Alliance’s lawsuit argues that the work would level parts of the forest, destroy habitat for several species and prompt road construction that would disrupt a roadless part of the forest where grizzly bears den.

In its complaint, the group argues that the Forest Service didn’t take a “hard look” at the impacts, and that the agency should have conducted a more stringent environmental analysis. It also argues that the agency erred by analyzing the project as a whole instead of producing site-specific analyses for the various timber sales and prescribed burns.