When it comes to enforcing scenic easements on private property within Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the Forest Service plays hardball.


The agency went to U.S. District Court in March 1995, when it discovered a barn-style addition to Kenneth and Sharon Walker's A-frame. The Forest Service had paid previous owners of the property $26,000 in 1984 for a "scenic easement," a guarantee that the property would remain as it was. Last December, the agency announced it had won the suit and the couple must remove the addition by July.


Conflict over the recreation area's charter - to protect the mountains, preserve open space and maintain the pastoral character of the valleys below - is not new. Proposals to build two subdivisions on private land have already sparked controversy (HCN, 12/9/96).


The lawsuit over the couple's addition, however, marks the first time in the recreation area's 24-year history that the Forest Service has gone to court to enforce a scenic easement. According to its terms, no construction could occur without prior approval from the Forest Service.


Sharon Walker called the agency's actions excessive. "The Forest Service is way out of bounds," she said. "I cannot see what their problem was. I did not believe that we needed their approval."


While Walker said she had spent "several thousand dollars' on the addition, Sawtooth ranger Paul Ries estimates that the Forest Service spent almost $90,000 of taxpayer money to enforce the easement. He says the victory was worth it. "If you go to trial and you lose, you're in deep trouble," said Ries. "But if you go to trial and you win, you've got something to hang your hat on."


*Shea Andersen





Shea Andersen works for the Idaho Mountain Express.