Wednesday, April 9, 2014
By Eric Barker
The threat of future megaload traffic on U.S. Highway 12 landed the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers on a list of the nation's most endangered streams.
The two rivers are protected by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and renowned for their beauty as well as their fishing and rafting opportunities. But environmental groups contend the prospect of the U.S. Highway 12 corridor between Kooskia and Powell turning into a route for industrial-sized traffic is on par with more common threats to rivers like proposed dams, pollution and dewatering.
The group American Rivers placed the Middle Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa on its annual list of 10 most endangered rivers.
"In this particular case, what is threatened is the special way that people interact with these two rivers. You might call it their cultural integrity," said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director of American Rivers.
He said the threat extends not only to the two rivers, but the integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United contend megaload traffic would undermine the scenic, recreational and cultural values that led to the rivers being designated for protection by Congress.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest is under a court order to temporarily ban megaload traffic through the corridor until it completes an assessment of the intrinsic values people hold regarding the rivers, and completion of consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe over megaloads.
A draft of the assessment, released by the agency Monday, said both tribal and non-tribal people hold the river in high regard for its beauty, solitude and access to hunting, fishing and recreation.
"If the Forest Service does not exert its authority to protect those special values on these rivers, we fear other agencies may not exert their authority to protect other wild and scenic rivers across the country," Bosse said. "The integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is what is at stake here."
Idaho Rivers United, along with the Nez Perce Tribe, sued the Forest Service last year for not protecting the corridor from megaloads. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction, but the case is still pending
Kevin Lewis with Idaho Rivers United said the agency needs to develop rules and regulations that protect the corridor.
"We have said all along this issue will not be resolved until the Forest Service develops management plans or rules or whatever you might call them for how this wild and scenic river corridor is to be managed in the future," he said. "The most endangered river designation will help focus some national attention on the issue."
Bosse said to land on the list, rivers must be facing a "critical decision point in the next year."
"One of the primary goals of the report is to get citizens to take action by reaching out to key decision makers, and in this particular case it's Chief of the Forest Service Tom Tidwell," Bosse said.
Other rivers on the list include: the San Joaquin River in California; upper Colorado River in Colorado; middle Mississippi River in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky; Gila River in New Mexico; San Francisquito in California; South Fork Edisto in South Carolina; White River in Colorado; White River in Washington; and the Haw River in North Carolina.