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Idaho and Utah National Forests Block 983 Miles of River Protections

Posted: 01/11/2024
By: Kevin Colburn

Late last year the US Forest Service released two new national forest management plans that deny protections for a total of 983 miles of streams that they had deemed eligible for Wild and Scenic designation. Federal law and policy requires them to protect these rivers for potential congressional designation, but instead they released the streams from protection. They released the protections to grant themselves greater flexibility to conduct logging and other activities in the river corridors, and for political reasons. 


Idaho: The Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest spans the whitewater paradise of the Clearwater River watershed in Idaho, which includes Golden Canyon on the South Fork Clearwater, the Selway River, the Lochsa River, the North Fork Clearwater, Lolo Creek, and the Potlatch River. Rivers on the Forest are vital habitat for the recovery of the region’s salmon and steelhead. The new Forest Service plan will eliminate protections for 366 miles of Wild and Scenic eligible rivers that have been protected since 1990, and for a total of 697 miles of streams they found eligible and should have protected in this planning process. Of 88 streams they found eligible, they only protected 12 in their final plan. 


Utah: The Ashley National Forest covers the Uinta Mountain Range between Salt Lake City, Utah and Flaming Gorge on the Green River. Over the past two decades the Ashley National Forest has recognized that 28 rivers totalling 339 miles are eligible for Wild and Scenic designation yet in their recent forest plan only protected 2 rivers, totalling 53 miles. The result is that 286 miles of rivers are not protected in the plan that should be. 


Both the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the 2012 Forest Planning Rule require agencies to find a suite of rivers eligible for designation and then protect them. Most National Forests honor this requirement and produce forest plans with protections in place for their most exemplary rivers and streams. The Ashley and Nez Perce Clearwater national forests are the first to flaunt this requirement since the passage of the 2012 Forest Planning Rule, and claim they can release rivers from protection for political and other subjective reasons.


American Whitewater filed a formal appeal of the Ashley plan that was denied late last year, and will file an appeal of the Nez Perce Clearwater plan in late January that is likely to meet a similar fate. With almost 1,000 miles of our nation’s finest rivers cued up to lose protection, we are working with our partners in the region to explore all of our options to protect these streams. 


While there is no public comment opportunity remaining in these processes, we greatly appreciate regional paddlers who contribute financially to support this work, who have filed a public comment on one of these plans, and who add compelling trip reports and photos of these rivers to the American Whitewater website. Your efforts are crucial to our ability to step up for these beautiful rivers and the sanctity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act!


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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