As the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery’s journey approaches, and the nation hails and hypes all things Lewis and Clarky, perhaps the most embarrassing tribute to the first white men to pass this way may belong to the neighboring Clearwater National Forest. A proposed sale in the North Lochsa Face Roadless Area would clearcut 3,250 acres of land adjacent to the historic Lewis and Clark route. The sale would be legal no matter what happens with the Forest Service’s roadless initiative, with a significant portion of the area to be logged by helicopter. Environmentalists have appealed the sale; a Forest Service ruling on their appeal is expected Friday, July 14.
The Clearwater National Forest, which has spent several years developing a management manifesto titled the North Lochsa Ecosystem Restoration Project, defends the clearcut as a minor inconvenience in an overall sound management plan for 128,000 acres of land from Fish Creek on the lower Lochsa to its confluence with the Selway near Lowell, Idaho. The Clearwater cites plans to close several miles of logging roads in some areas while logging about 8,500 acres (about 10 square miles) in other areas over the next five to ten years. Moreover, the roadless area to be logged is not prime old-growth, according to the Forest Service, but non-native ponderosa pine planted after a fire in the 1930s.
“It’s interesting that what the Forest Service is leaving out in informing the public about this plan,” says Chuck Pezeshki of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project. “Yeah, they’re closing some roads, but what they don’t tell you is that a lot of those drainages are trashed, damaged beyond repair. What they’re not telling you is that they’ve already logged off all the best timber in the accessible places, so what they have left are these incredibly steep slopes prone to erosion and slides. … Ask yourself this: It costs $2,500 an hour to rent a helicopter to log this area. What kind of trees would you be cutting down if you were paying that kind of money? I’ll tell you: You’d be cutting expensive trees.”
A consortium of environmental groups in Idaho and Montana are also appealing to the Clinton administration to designate this portion of the Lewis and Clark trail as a national monument, which would preclude further logging.
Doug Glevanik of regional Forest Service office in Missoula downplayed some of the group’s efforts. “I don’t think they can log that close to the Lewis and Clark trail anyway,” Glevanik opines. “My thought is that it’s already protected by the federal Antiquities Act.”
“Any more logging in this area is too much,” says Pezeshki. “Drive over Highway 12. You don’t see what Lewis and Clark saw; you see clearcuts.”