Loads spark dispute within Clearwater Collaborative

Brandt wary of wild-scenic river designation

By Eric Barker of the Tribune
March 25, 2011
An Idaho County commissioner and member of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative said a recent megaload lawsuit will make it more difficult for him to back new wild and scenic river designations.

“They have proved to me the deterrent of getting wild and scenic easements in
Idaho. They have removed all doubt that this is not positive,” said Skip Brandt of Kooskia.

The environmental group Idaho Rivers United filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month in an attempt to stop oversized shipments along the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers that are protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“It’s really a special place and the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is to protect the status quo, to protect those values,” said Bill Sedivy, executive director of the Boise-based group.

Like Brandt, Sedivy is a member of the collaborative, a group of diverse interests trying to forge agreements on both conservation and economic development in the vast Clearwater region of Idaho.

Brandt and others want to increase activities like logging.

Sedivy and other environmental members want to see more areas designated as wilderness and more rivers designated as wild and scenic.

Collaborative members hope to find common ground that will allow conservationists to back more logging in certain areas and for local governments and members of the timber industry to back protection of some places.

The collaborative has declined to take a position on the megaloads proposed to travel along U.S. Highway 12 and the two river corridors. But Brandt said the lawsuit shows him the act could make it more difficult for commercial activities to take place in the future if new rivers are protected by the act. For that reason he is unlikely to support new designations.

“I think they damaged any possibility of wild and scenic getting approved.”

Sedivy acknowledged the lawsuit may cause a temporary dust-up but he doesn’t think it will have lasting implications on the agreements the collaborative group is trying to craft. He said the group went to court because it has a legitimate disagreement over the way the act is being interpreted as it relates to the megaloads.

“It might make it a little harder to talk about (new designations) in the short term but I am hopeful in the long run we will be OK and do what is best for the basin,” he said. “There are lots of rivers in the Clearwater country that are deserving of designation.”

Only Congress can protect rivers and streams under the act. The collaborative group has not endorsed any new wild and scenic river designations. But one of its sub groups will ask the entire group to consider backing protection for Meadow Creek and Johns Creek on the Nez Perce National Forest and Fish Creek, Hungry Creek, Kelly Creek and Cayuse Creeks on the Clearwater Forest.

Barker may be contacted at [email protected] or at (208) 848-2273.