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Know the West

Activists wade through mudslides

  Idaho environmentalists say that while the Senate debated cutting subsidies for logging in September, the Forest Service withheld politically damaging evidence that logging on steep slopes harms forests and native fish.

After heavy rains triggered 905 massive mudslides during the winter of 1995-96 on the Clearwater National Forest in central Idaho, agency officials ordered an investigation of the causes and extent of damage to streams from 400,000 cubic yards of debris. The Clearwater National Forest Landslide Assessment Study was due last February, but the date was pushed back to August and then October. Preliminary results released by Deputy Northern Regional Forester Kathy McAllister showed that 58 percent of the slides were related to logging roads.

Chuck Pezeshki, a member of the Moscow, Idaho-based Wild Clearwater Coalition, called the report "a political liability," since it would show that streams are blown out by mudslides from logging roads.

Clearwater National Forest spokeswoman Deanna Riebe denied a connection between the Senate debate on road subsidies and the agency's delayed report. She blamed a staffing shortage for the tardiness in making the report public. The new release date is Nov. 1.

"We're looking really closely at what impact roads had on the slides. And we'll change our management practices accordingly," Riebe said.

The agency's preliminary results showed that 29 percent of the mudslides were natural, and 12 percent came from logged slopes, according to McAllister.

To receive a copy of the report when it is released, call Doug McClelland of the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Regional Office at 406/329-3351. To contact the Wild Clearwater Coalition, call Larry McLaud 208/882-1010.

* Jason Lenderman