Idaho’s Clearwater Country deserves better, needs your help

The merging of the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests offers opportunity to plunder-

Two very important national forests in north central Idaho were recently combined through administrative action. The Clearwater and the Nez Perce National Forests both operate under separate forest management plans, developed after years of analysis and public comment. There was even legal action and a settlement in the process. Now the task is to combine the two forest plans into one effective and hopefully comprehensible document. Public comments on the initial Forest Plan Revision are due in about a month — on Friday November 14.

A Forest Plan is a contract with the public that sets the desired conditions or management direction for a particular forest for the next decade. Among many things, it recommends new areas for wilderness designation, it identifies native species whose viability is a concern, selects what part of the forest is suitable for logging and grazing, and establishes baselines for water quality, sensitive soils, steep slopes, old growth forests and fish and wildlife habitat, and in this case in beautiful and often wild mountain and canyonlands.

The Clearwater Basin of north-central Idaho is part of the Big Wild, the best remaining intact ecosystem in the lower 48. According to a study in 2001 (Carroll et. al.) the Clearwater Basin contains the best habitat for large carnivores in the U.S. Northern Rockies and Canadian Southern Rockies. With a vast roadless base, tremendous diversity, numerous imperiled native species and ample opportunities for recreation and solitude, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is a favorite place of many and truly unique from other parts of Idaho and the West.

Analysis suggests, only twenty-two percent of the remaining 1.5-million acre roadless base would be managed as recommended Wilderness in the proposed plan. Roughly eighty percent of the roadless base would be susceptible to development! Weitas Creek, Pot Mountain and Fish and Hungry Creek would receive no permanent protection. Special places like Meadow Creek and Cayuse Creek could be designated as mere Special Management Areas and broken into fragments by motorized recreation. This proposal is a big step back from the 1987 Forest Plan and 1993 legal settlement, too, which resulted in approximately 500,000-acres being managed as recommended Wilderness.

A multitude of imperiled species find habitat in the northern-half of the Big Wild, including bull trout, Chinook salmon, west-slope cutthroat, fisher, wolverines and pine martens. Unfortunately, this proposal lacks a sound scientific basis for conserving these and other important species because it lacks a robust list of focal species, along with a population-monitoring program. Not surprisingly, it also omits grizzly bears as a Species of Concern.

At the same time, the Forest Service is positioning itself to triple the timber harvest on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. They will achieve this by lowering standards, creating loopholes, and sacrificing other values on this national forest, regardless of the best-available science. Logging could occur in riparian areas and old growth forests and allow development on sensitive soils and steep slopes. Clear-cuts could routinely be 150-acres in size. The current plan generally limits the size to 40-acres.

A key component to a Forest Plan is the ability of the public to hold the agency accountable through measurable and enforceable standards. This essentially equates to being able to challenge a decision on the national forest deemed illegal or in violation of the current Forest Plan. Quantitative standards are important for ensuring the protection of vital resources on the national forest. Streamside buffers must remain inviolate, older and mature forests must not be developed, “actual” sediment loads in streams and waterways must be monitored and never exceeded, and limits must be established for road densities. It appears the Forest Service is attempting to head in the opposite direction however, and instead, weaken or remove existing standards and guidelines in their current proposal. The 1987 Forest Plan has enforceable standards.

Friends of the Clearwater is asking the public for help — help by attending the November 6 grassroots Forest Plan Revision information session in the Fiske Room of the 1912 Center in Moscow. It is from 5 to 7 pm. There will be information about the places in question with plenty of maps.  There will be refreshments, presumably of the light kind.  According to Friends, Supervisor Rick Brazell needs to hear that the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests proposed action is short on accountability, but long on platitudes. It “fails to adequately protect the unique and irreplaceable Clearwater Basin.”


  1. Amre Avatar

    You have to wonder why so many of these federal agencies are anti-wildlife these days…..

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Perhaps it is because of increased sensitivity to local extractive “stakeholders.”

      I have heard a lot of the problem in the Clearwater Basin is another one of those consensus committees — the Clearwater Collaborative. Here are conservationists who would rather go along and get along by acceding to local practice and its mythology.

      This is an article in the High Country News that is typical of collaborative conservationists who think the Clearwater Basin Collaborative is great stuff. The glowing article does not say a word about wildlife in the Clearwater Basin or anything else in particular on the ground.

      1. Brett Haverstick Avatar
        Brett Haverstick

        Very good point Ralph. Collaboratives produce political wilderness and rarely, if at all, follow conservation biology principles, watershed boundaries, habitat connectivity, etc. We need big, bold measures to preserve the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the 21st Century and counter the collaborative trend. Let’s have a Wild Rockies Rendezvous in 2015 and keep the flame burning.

  2. Joanne Favazza Avatar
    Joanne Favazza

    I am sick and tired of federal agencies pandering to special interests and destroying our treasured wild places in the process. There is a complete lack of regard and respect for wildlife and wild habitat, and it’s getting worse. I’m also sick of so-called “conservation” groups who refuse to stand up to this destruction. What will future generations think of us?

  3. Avatar

    The group, “Friends of the Clearwater” deserve gold medals and all the support they can get.

    1. Brett Haverstick Avatar
      Brett Haverstick

      Appreciate that Ed. We’re proud to speak for the land and not compromise our land ethic.

  4. Yvette Avatar

    Does anyone know whether the Nez Perce Tribe has had a government-to-government consultation on this proposed plan? I assume it has happened since it is legally required. Does anyone know where the tribe (the tribal leaders, not just individuals) stands on this proposed plan?

    Maybe you guys already have formed a relationship with the tribe on some of these issues. If not, and if it were me, I would be working on building an alliance with elected Nez Perce Chief and National Council Members. Because of tribal sovereignty, the tribe can apply sovereign rights since this plan has the potential to adversely affect them.

    It looks like the FS has a draft of an amended tribal consultation policy.

    1. Brett Haverstick Avatar
      Brett Haverstick

      Hi Yvette. Friends of the Clearwater is proud to have a good relationship with both the tribal government and individual tribal members. Julian Matthews of the tribe serves on our Advisory Board of Directors, too.


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Brett Haverstick