- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - State officials have given their OK to modify a northern Idaho timber-sale contract to include helicopter logging that will cost the state up to $1.5 million in lost revenue.

The Idaho Land Board’s 4-0 vote on Tuesday followed a federal court ruling earlier this month that put the Selway Fire Salvage timber sale on hold by temporarily banning the use of a contested U.S. Forest Service road. The road crosses private property in a Wild and Scenic River corridor.

State officials initially estimated the sale on about 167 acres about 25 miles east of Kooskia would produce nearly 7 million board feet of timber and bring in about $2 million to the endowment fund that supports Idaho’s public schools. With the added cost of using helicopters, revenue drops to $500,000 to $750,000.

“It’s disappointing,” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said after the meeting. “A million and a half bucks in a classroom - you can do an awful lot with it.”

But state officials told Otter and other Land Board members that the timber will lose value the longer logging is delayed, and that insect infestation will take hold and could spread to surrounding forests.

Idaho Rivers United and property owners Morgan and Olga Wright filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year seeking to reverse a Forest Service decision that Forest Road 652 is public. If it’s not public, that means the Idaho Department of Lands would have to obtain a special-use permit from the Forest Service to use the road for the logging project, a process that takes several years.

Despite the lawsuit, Idaho went ahead with the timber salvage sale and logging was planned. But on July 10, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a temporary restraining order requested by the Wrights and Idaho Rivers United.

State Forester David Groeschl on Tuesday also noted that Winmill, in granting the injunction, wrote that the Wrights and Idaho Rivers United met the criteria that the initial lawsuit had a likelihood of success on its merits. Groeschl said the state still had a fiduciary responsibility to produce what money it could and a stewardship responsibility to remove the dead trees because of insect infestation and the need for restoration.

Laird Lucas, an attorney at Advocates for the West, is representing Idaho Rivers United. “We have said all along that helicopter logging would be more prudent than using the Forest Service road,” he said.

State officials say none of the state land to be logged is in the Wild and Scenic River corridor, and Groeschl told the Land Board that the state would continue to try to gain permanent access to the parcel. He said if the state lost in federal court, the state would go through the environmental analysis needed to obtain a special-use permit from the Forest Service to use the road.

However, it’s not clear how successful that effort will be. The Wrights’ property, including the portion of the road that the Wrights maintain, is entirely within the Wild and Scenic River protected corridor.

Complicating matters is that the property also contains two easements. One easement is from 1937 that the Forest Service says makes public 765 feet of the Forest Road 652 crossing the Wright’s property. Another easement from 1977 bans using the property for mining and industrial activities. Lucas has said that the second easement precludes using the road for logging activities, eliminating the possibility of the Forest Service ever issuing a special-use permit to the state.


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