In 1987, foresters on the Clearwater National Forest in north-central Idaho pledged to set aside 10 percent of the Clearwater's 1.8 million acres in old-growth forest reserves. The agency says it has lived up to that pledge, reserving almost 200,000 acres.


Environmentalists in Idaho who have studied the agency's data say the numbers don't add up.


"Their data doesn't support their own conclusions," says Amy Haak, a graphic information systems analyst working for the Idaho Conservation League. In some cases, the agency counted acres of seedlings or even bare ground as old-growth forest, she says.


In one case, there is "an area they are calling old growth and there are no trees on it," says Haak. "It seems to me the presence of trees would be a fundamental criteria for old growth."


The Clearwater National Forest stands by its numbers, which it handed over to a federal court earlier this year as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the Idaho Conservation League over forest practices.


"We're still well over the 10 percent minimum," says Doug Gochnour of the Clearwater National Forest. "We believe the consultant (the Idaho Conservation League) hired to do this work made some fundamental mistakes," he says. Gochnour won't say what mistakes were made.


Meanwhile, the Clearwater forest is still cutting its big trees: the controversial Fish Bate timber sale near Orofino, Idaho, would log 888 acres of old growth.


* Dustin Solberg