The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) has once again intervened on behalf of the Payette Forest Coalition (PFC) and Adams County, Idaho in the latest round of litigation aimed at blocking the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek landscape project on the Payette National Forest. The U.S. district court formally granted intervention to the Coalition and County, and a hearing on the project is scheduled for August 5 in Boise.
The PFC is a forest collaborative representing diverse stakeholders including local government leaders and citizens, the forest products industry, and conservation groups.
In 2013 the collaborative agreed on the need to improve the health of the local watershed, enhance wildlife habitat for federally-protected species, while reducing the risks of catastrophic wildfires. PFC members reached consensus on a series of project treatments that include timber harvesting and thinning, trail maintenance, off-road vehicle use, and the maintenance and decommissioning of forest roads. The project, which initially started work in 2015, was developed through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and involves over 85,000 acres of forest restoration activities, including over 20,000 acres of commercial treatments.
In his declaration to the court, PFC member Rick Tholen says the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek project “embodies the idea that better results—for the forest, its stakeholders, and local communities—can and should be achieved through collaborative efforts to find common ground and build partnerships among everyone who has a stake in forest management.”
AFRC first intervened on behalf of PFC and Adams County when activist groups sued to stop the project in 2016. A U.S. District Court upheld the project, determining the Forest Service performed all required environmental analyses and wildlife consultations, and deferring to the agency’s use of science in implementing the forest health treatments.
Upon appeal, the U.S. Ninth Circuit upheld most of the lower court’s findings but remanded the case, requiring the Forest Service to clarify the use of land designations under the 2003 Payette National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. After fulfilling the Ninth Circuit’s mandate, opponents sued the Forest Service again last year. Now back in U.S. District court, the PFC and Adams County maintain that the project meets all applicable environmental laws and regulations and should be allowed to be completed.
“Adams County fully supports the project, as it is consistent with the collaboration priorities of wildlife, wildfire, watershed health, forest access and recreation, and restoration economics,” wrote Adams County Commissioner Mike Paradis in his court declaration. “Because of the collaborative nature of the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Project and the very high need for forest restoration across the Payette, the County supported the project during the first round of litigation. We were disappointed that the Ninth Circuit ultimately halted this important work, but continue to believe the project is necessary and appropriate for ecological, social, and economic reasons.”
John Robison, Public Lands Director for Idaho Conservation League, also a member of the PFC, stated similarly in his declaration that “members of the Payette Forest Coalition have shared goals, including healthy watersheds where problematic roads have been resurfaced or relocated, culverts are right-sized to allow for aquatic organism passage, and the remaining large trees are no longer surrounded by dense thickets of unnatural ladder fuels.” He added that “there is a strong argument for doing some thoughtful active restoration in the area (including commercial thinning and prescribed burning) rather than a passive restoration approach that would not address the fundamental ecological issues.”
“This collaborative effort benefits forest health and wildlife habitat. It supports local jobs and economic activity, and generates funding for county services and additional restoration work on the Payette National Forest,” said AFRC Legal Counsel Lawson Fite. “We are proud to support the work of the PFC and will continue to work with our partners, federal agencies, and the community to see the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek landscape project to completion.”