Following several years of participation from an array of stakeholders, the Forest Service recently released a new Land Management Plan for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Unfortunately, the new Land Management Plan significantly diminishes protections for fish, wildlife, and wildlands in the Clearwater Basin. Plus, despite it taking several years to get to this point, organizations and members of the public that participated in the planning process only have 60 days to file “objections” to the plan and seek changes before the Forest Supervisor signs off on it. Below, we highlight some of the major concerns that immediately stand out in this plan.
Recommended wilderness areas
Wilderness designation is an important tool for protecting fish and wildlife habitat and areas for foot and stock access because they are off limits to road construction, mining, logging, and motorized and mechanized access. The Forest Service can recommend areas for wilderness designation during the planning process.
While the Forest Service slightly expanded the proposed Mallard-Larkins Wilderness and added East Meadow Creek to its list of recommended wilderness areas, the agency eliminated proposed additions to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness near Elk Summit and redrew the boundaries of the proposed Great Burn Wilderness Area. The area between Fish Lake and Hoodoo Pass and the terrain around Blacklead Mountain were removed from the recommended wilderness boundary to legitimize illegal snowmobile access in those locations.
Suitable wild and scenic rivers
Wild and Scenic Rivers designation is an important tool for protecting free-flowing rivers and streams from dams, diversions, and other water developments. During the planning process, the Forest Service identified rivers and streams that are eligible for designation. Ninety-six rivers and streams were found eligible.
However, of that total, the agency believes that only ten rivers and streams should be protected as Wild and Scenic, including Kelly Creek, North Fork Kelly Creek, Middle Fork Kelly Creek, South Fork Kelly Creek, Cayuse Creek, Colt Killed Creek, Weitas Creek, Hungery Creek, Fish Creek, and Meadow Creek. Nearly all of these streams are located in backcountry areas where the threat of dams and water developments is low.
Noticeably absent from the list are major rivers like the Little North Fork Clearwater River, North Fork Clearwater River and South Fork Clearwater River, which are defining features of the Clearwater Basin. These are the kinds of rivers that Congress intended to protect from dams and other water developments when it passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Their omission is stunning.
Fish and wildlife
What the new Land Management Plan says about fish and wildlife habitat is less important than what the plan doesn’t say. While the Plan expresses a desire to provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species, there are very few requirements or “standards” for wildlife habitat protection. In fact, there is not a single standard for mountain goat, wolverine, or grizzly bear, which are all special-status species.
The previous Plan divided the forest into elk management units. There was a limit on motorized access in each elk management unit in order to minimize human disturbance and support healthy elk populations. These limits, which also benefit other species, have been done away with.
The old plan similarly included limits on sediment in fish-bearing streams to protect clean water and healthy populations of native fish such as salmon, steelhead and trout. Those requirements have also been eliminated in favor of soft goals related to providing clean water and fish habitat.
What is ICL doing about it?
ICL staff are in the process of fully reviewing the new Land Management Plan and the associated Environmental Impact Statement. We intend to file an administrative objection and seek improvements to the plan that address the problems that we identify.
If you want to use your voice to speak out on this issue, contact ICL’s North Idaho Community Engagement Assistant, Karissa Huntsman.