- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A salvage logging project on a national forest near the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers in northern Idaho violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, two conservation groups say.

Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater on Friday filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Forest Service seeking to stop the project that aims to harvest about 34 million board feet of timber scorched by wildfire.

The groups contend in the 36-page complaint that the Forest Service’s approval of the project violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“Rather than follow its legal duty to protect the Wild and Scenic River corridor, the Forest Service is allowing significant degradation to occur without disclosing the true scope of the impacts to the public,” Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United said in a statement.

The groups also say potential harm to federally protected steelhead, salmon and bull trout hasn’t been adequately considered. They name the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the lawsuit.

“This timber sale violates the requirements to protect the Selway’s crucial steelhead habitat,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.

The logging includes clear-cutting, the building of roads and helicopter landing areas, the groups say. They add that the project violates prohibitions on logging within federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridors.

Logging on steep drainages will cause sediment to enter rivers and imperil fish and their habitat, the groups also contend.

The lightning-caused Johnson Bar Fire burned more than 20 square miles in 2014, mostly on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

A spokeswoman for the Forest Service on Friday said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Specifically, the conservation groups are asking the federal court to rule that the federal agencies didn’t follow required environmental laws in approving the salvage timber project. The groups, represented by Advocates for the West, are also asking the court to prevent any logging until federal agencies adopt a valid comprehensive river-management plan for the Selway, Lochsa and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers.

There’s also a separate though related lawsuit Idaho Rivers United and a couple who own property in the area filed last year against the Forest Service after the federal agency gave the Idaho Department of Lands permission to use a road in the area for a salvage logging operation on state land to harvest timber burned by the same wildfire.

A federal court judge in July issued an injunction to block the use of the road. Idaho officials then altered the logging contract and logging went ahead with helicopters, which is what Idaho Rivers United officials said they preferred because it caused less damage to the area.

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