Federal legislation designed to protect Alaska's wild areas may enable a timber company to build at least 21 miles of new road through endangered species habitat on public and private lands in the Selkirk Range of Idaho and Washington.
Stimson Lumber Company says it is guaranteed access to its checkerboard of national forest inholdings by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, passed by Congress in 1980. A federal court ruled in 1981 that under ANILCA, landowners must be allowed "reasonable access" to inholdings, not only in Alaska but in national forests nationwide.
The company has threatened suit against the Forest Service to force a decision on the road requests, first proposed in 1992. The Forest Service attempted to broker land exchanges with Stimson, but is running out of options that might satisfy both Stimson and wildlife advocates.
Under the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists must examine the impacts of Stimson's roads on threatened grizzly bear, caribou and lynx populations, but the Service acknowledges that their findings rarely result in a project's termination.
Approval of Stimson's proposals would invite a volley of legal challenges by environmentalists. "The Forest Service is saying ANILCA trumps the Endangered Species Act," says Mark Sprengel of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance. "We say the ESA should take precedence."
Forest supervisors in the Colville and Idaho Panhandle national forests may reach a decision as early as April.