Thundering against Thunderbolt

  When the U.S. Forest Service set aside a steep and damaged portion of the Boise National Forest for a timber sale called Thunderbolt early this fall, environmentalists in Idaho filed one of the first lawsuits against a salvage sale. Now the 13 million board feet has sold for $1 million, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund hopes to stop the Boise Cascade Corp. before it starts cutting.


Although salvage sales are exempt from environmental laws and citizen appeals, the Defense Fund says it will try to prove the sale is "arbitrary and capricious." Or, as the Idaho Conservation League's John McCarthy says, "We must prove stupidity and mindlessness' on the part of the Forest Service.


Defense Fund attorney Kristin Boyles thinks there's plenty of evidence to prove that point. Heavy logging in the area in the 1960s caused huge landslides that dumped three feet of dirt into the river, clogging chinook spawning and rearing habitat. Even though management plans for the Payette and Boise national forest plans in the 1980s placed a moratorium on logging to let chinook habitat recover, the Forest Service put Thunderbolt up for salvage after a fire swept through the area last year.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency all say chinook habitat is still dangerously polluted. Environmentalists also fear that if the timber industry cuts roads through this area, it will lead to logging of green trees in the nearby proposed Caton Lakes Wilderness.


The Forest Service defends the sale, however, saying it's one of the only ways to raise revenue to restore the damaged habitat. Attorney Boyles disagrees: "You cannot trash a forest in order to save it."


* Heather Abel