- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A federal judge has halted a salvage logging project in northern Idaho at the request of two environmental groups that say it violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale on Thursday ruled the U.S. Forest Service cannot go ahead with the project near the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers that aims to harvest 34 million board feet of timber scorched by a 2014 wildfire.

Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater sought the injunction ahead of logging scheduled to start as early as Monday.

“The Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers are among the crown jewels of our nation’s river systems,” said Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United in a statement. “This is an important court ruling enforcing Congressional direction that these are to be protected for present and future generations.”

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

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

Dale in the 56-page ruling said the Forest Service failed to do a supplemental study after 2015 wildfires burned near the planned logging from the 2014 fires, and violated other environmental laws by failing to look at other important aspects of the logging project.

Dale noted that the Forest Service is decades past a statutory deadline to review a 1969 River Plan to make sure it conforms to 1986 amendments approved by Congress.

“The Forest Service cannot effectively analyze, nor can the public and Court crosscheck, the Forest Service’s analysis, without a River Plan that delineates objective standards, or predetermined criteria, for describing, assessing, and protecting the Wild and Scenic values of the Rivers,” Dale wrote.

She said that left the public having to trust that the Forest Service had “considered all relevant factors necessary to protecting the Middle Fork Clearwater and Selway Rivers’ Wild and Scenic values.” She described that as “likely legally insufficient, arbitrary and capricious.”

Dale ordered both sides to file litigation plans before May 23 as the initial lawsuit now moves forward.

In a related case involving the 2014 wildfire, a federal court judge in July sided with Idaho Rivers United and issued an injunction blocking the Forest Service from allowing the Idaho Department of Lands to use a road for salvage logging on state land.

Idaho officials then altered the logging contract and logging went ahead with helicopters, which is what Idaho Rivers United said they preferred in that case because it caused less damage to the area.

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