For immediate release: Monday, August 30, 2021
BOISE – On August 30, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) filed a notice of intent to sue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for failing to adequately assess the impacts the Boise National Forest’s Sage Hen Project would have on bull trout. Once found throughout 60 percent of the Columbia River Basin, the USFWS listed bull trout as a threatened species in 1999.
The Sage Hen Project is in the Upper Squaw Core Area, one of 22 core areas within the Upper Snake Recovery Unit for “resident” bull trout. Logging and associated project activities in this watershed would adversely affect the threatened species. According to a 2008 USFWS study, only 250 to 1,000 bull trout remain and are especially sensitive to habitat disturbance and other impacts to water quality.
Randy Fox, ICL’s West Central Idaho conservation associate, said, “U.S. Forest Service officials severely limited the public’s ability to respond and address serious concerns with the Sage Hen Project. ICL was involved in project development as a member of the Boise Forest Coalition and we remain committed to forest restoration, but the process and the outcome were deeply flawed.”
Fox added, “Instead of undertaking a project that harms water quality, we should all be working together to protect and restore these imperiled fish.”
The Forest Service authorized the project on April 14 and issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” despite the concerns and objections of ICL and others. The Forest Service examined the potential effects of the 68,000-acre project area using an “Environmental Assessment” rather than the more rigorous “Environmental Impact Statement,” a decision ICL and others adamantly opposed.
According to the Forest Service, the project “may affect and is likely to adversely affect bull trout and bull trout designated critical habitat.” The USFWS agreed that project activities, primarily from road construction and related work, will pollute streams and harm bull trout. Despite this, USFWS dismissed the impacts to water quality from sediment and other pollution.
ICL works hard to keep Idaho’s public lands in public hands. We participate in collaborative projects across the state to help develop and implement policies that help restore and sustain the natural resources of Idaho’s public lands while laying the groundwork for permanent protective designations. Our focus is protecting public lands for future generations and the native plants, fish, and wildlife that depend on them.