SALMON, Idaho - Environmentalists ignited a firestorm in central Idaho by requesting a blanket injunction on all logging, mining and grazing on six national forests to protect endangered salmon habitat.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Ezra
of Honolulu, filling in for a sick Idaho judge, granted the
injunction on Jan. 12, lighting the fuse.
a week, two major open-pit mines and two mines under construction
were scheduled to close in Custer and Lemhi counties, with a total
of 800 jobs at stake. Twenty-eight smaller mines, three timber
sales and 69 grazing allotments also were placed in jeopardy in the
Salmon and Challis national forests
Attorneys with the Sierra Club Legal
Defense Fund, who represented the Pacific Rivers Council and the
Wilderness Society in the case, pooh-poohed the impact of the
decision - at first.
"It's not the end of the
world," said defense fund attorney Kristen Boyles in Seattle. But
once Ezra's ruling became known in central Idaho, people talked of
"This decision stinks and I'm mad
as hell," said state Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis. "This is war.
I think we'll probably win the war, but how many bodies will be
left on the battlefield before we win the war?"
Within one day, Barrett and two fellow
legislators from central Idaho reported more than 150 telephone
messages from irate citizens. On Jan. 21, about 350 people showed
up for a rally in Challis. A 4-year-old boy wore a large sign
saying, "Please, don't put my daddy out of
Jack Cook, a one-time salmon fisherman,
now owner of a sporting goods store in Salmon, said the injunction
was a sham. "There's no way this is going to help make the salmon
come back," Cook said. "It makes me feel like an innocent person is
being sent to the gallows."
On the eve of the
impending shutdown, the environmental plaintiffs switched gears and
asked Ezra to stay the injunction until March 16. Craig Gehrke,
regional director of the Wilderness Society, said the groups did
not want to harm the communities.
stipulate that the injunction ... is anticipated to cause severe
economic hardship and to seriously disrupt some local communities
near these forests," the stay said.
stay has doused the firestorm for now, but the lawsuit's impacts
continue to linger in Idaho and Congress.
case underscored a widening gap between the values of urban
environmentalists and rural working folks. It also revealed a rift
in the environmental community. No Idaho-based environmental group
participated in the lawsuit. Some openly criticized the
Oregon-based Pacific Rivers Council and the Washington, D.C.-based
Wilderness Society for pursuing an injunction at a time when
Congress is leaning toward gutting the Endangered Species
"I totally screamed at him (Bob Doppelt,
Pacific Rivers Council executive director). I told him he had set
me back three years in building organization in support of the
Endangered Species Act in Idaho," says Wendy Wilson, executive
director of Idaho Rivers United. "I understand why they filed the
suit, but their strategy sucked."
article in the Feb. 6 issue of the Washington Times singled out the
lawsuit as the "most devastating environmental shutdown since the
northern spotted owl brought the Pacific Northwest timber industry
to its knees."
Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and
others will single out the lawsuit as a prime example of
environmental excess when Congress debates reauthorization of the
Endangered Species Act, said Crapo's press aide, Susan
Four days after the stay was granted, an
estimated 2,500 people marched into downtown Salmon for a group
portrait. They wanted the Pacific Rivers Council and Wilderness
Society to know that people depend on the forests to make a
Gehrke and Doppelt maintain that filing
the lawsuit was the right thing to do to force the U.S. Forest
Service to protect salmon habitat.
"Some of the
forest plans, such as the Nez Perce and Payette, called for
degradation of salmon habitat and have inflated targets for timber
harvest," Gehrke said. "We're saying: Let's face reality, we've got
an endangered species here, you've got to revise the forest plans
and lower those timber targets so you can protect salmon habitat."
Since Snake River chinook and sockeye salmon
were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1991, the Forest
Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been
consulting on a project-by-project basis. Instead of revising the
phone-book-sized forest plans, the Forest Service adjusted each
logging, mining or grazing project to protect salmon habitat. Then
the federal fisheries service reviewed the projects, and in many
cases, required greater protection for
This was the procedure for projects that
"may affect" salmon habitat. But for projects that the Forest
Service deemed were "not likely to affect" salmon habitat, the
Forest Service did not necessarily consult the national fisheries
Legal Defense Fund attorney Boyles
argued that this was akin to "jumping out of a plane while the
instructor inspects the parachute." She says the Forest Service
should have revised its 10-year forest plans in 1991, thus avoiding
the bind it faces now.
However, some people who
advocate saving salmon did not think the lawsuit would help. "All
they're doing is crossing the t's and dotting the i's. I don't
think it'll save a single salmon," said Hadley Roberts, a Salmon,
Idaho, environmentalist and author of a bird-watching
"If those Sierra Club (Legal Defense Fund)
attorneys put the same amount of effort into addressing the dams,
we'd be a lot better off," Roberts said. "Heck, 90 percent of the
fish are killed in the dams."
biologists concur with Roberts.
But Doppelt and
Gehrke contend that the lawsuit will help ensure that the few
salmon who do make it past the dams have high-quality spawning
habitat in the forests. It will also help bull trout, cutthroat
trout and other aquatic life that depend on healthy habitat, they
Meanwhile, Pat Ford, executive director of
Save Our Wild Salmon and long-time Idaho environmentalist, said he
and others have to work on rebuilding trust with loggers, miners
"This whole episode has caused
conservationists big trouble of all kinds," he said. "But I want to
be able to go into Challis and Salmon and talk about our goals and
objectives and try to find some common ground."
He'd also like people from Challis and Salmon to
put pressure on Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, to push for fixing
downriver dams to save salmon.
"It's fine to say,
"Don't pick on us, the problem lies in the dams," "''''Ford said.
"But I'd say the shortest path to avoid these problems is to
restore the fish. And the shortest path to that solution is Idaho's
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