- Associated Press - Monday, February 20, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has asked to intervene in a lawsuit involving an environmental group and the U.S. Forest Service over a proposed logging project.

Otter filed the paperwork Thursday in U.S. District Court to assist the Forest Service.

Friends of the Clearwater filed a lawsuit in November challenging the Forest Service’s analysis that found logging and other work in an undeveloped part of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest won’t degrade the area or threaten its roadless status and its future as a potential wilderness designation.

The lawsuit involves the Idaho Roadless Rule, which allows road building and logging that is associated with reducing fire risk near communities. The proposed logging is near the tiny community of Orogrande.

Otter said that he’s seeking to make sure the state’s interest receive adequate representation.

“This is a prime example of the type of project contemplated and authorized by the Idaho Roadless Rule,” said Jim Caswell, chairman of the Idaho Roadless Commission. “The Orogrande Project will not only have several important short-term benefits, it will also improve the overall roadless characteristics of the area over the long term.”

Orogrande is a tiny, unincorporated, historic mining community about 40 miles southwest of Elk City. It includes about 20 cabins and homes, most of which are occupied seasonally. Fire has threatened the community a number of times in recent years and the logging project is designed to reduce that threat.

Cheryl Probert, supervisor of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, has said the Orogrande Community Protection Project will reduce fire risk and promote a healthy, fire-resistant forest. She also said the area has heavy fuel loads and frequent lightning.

But about 280 acres of the project is in the West Fork Crooked River Inventoried Roadless Area and would include construction of about 6 miles of road. Once logging is complete, the road would be obliterated.

Friends of the Clearwater in the 26-page complaint filed Nov. 3 contend the Forest Service violated environmental laws by concluding that the project would have no significant impact.

The group in its lawsuit said the finding by the Forest Service violates the National Environmental Policy Act because roadbuilding and timber harvest in an Idaho Roadless Area will eliminate the characteristics such areas are supposed to possess.

The governor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Friday.

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