Oppose Collaborative Deforestation around Lake Pend Oreille!


The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) and compromised, north Idaho Big Greens involved in the Panhandle Forest “Collaborative” have agreed to massive deforestation of steep mountains on the remote, wilder, east side of Lake Pend Oreille, promoted as “restoration” projects to reduce wildfires and insect and disease outbreaks [1, 2].  Over the next few years, the Sandpoint Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF) and timber companies plan to excessively build roads and log over 175,000 acres of Lake Pend Oreille slopes, which would degrade water and air quality, wildlife habitat, protected areas, and recreational opportunities.  A complex of three contiguous logging projects, the 57,000-acre Buckskin Saddle, 43,000-acre Chloride Gold, and 43,500-acre Honey Badger, extends 45 miles from the Clark Fork River on the north, throughout eastern lake forests, and south to the Hayden Lake area.  Government proposals and decisions on these unnecessary forays into carbon-sequestering forests overlap temporally, while the middle Chloride Gold project also overlaps spatially with the area of the Kaniksu Winter Recreation environmental assessment (EA).  These USFS overlaps are called “stacking National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents,” an illegal rush and overburden of public scrutiny.

Located to the south of federal agency-finalized Buckskin Saddle project destruction, currently stalled by Johnson Creek bridge replacement near the Clark Fork River delta between September 2022 and May 2023, and potential litigation by grassroots groups, the Chloride Gold (CG) project proposes to conduct “vegetation management,” “hazardous fuels reduction,” and other activities to “manage invasive plants, roads, trails, recreation, wildlife habitat, and improve fish passage under roads … [and] overall landscape resiliency to disturbances” [2-6].  Pre-scoping ideas suggested that the USFS planned to push approximately 23.8 miles of new, “temporary” road construction and over 12 square miles of forest “regeneration” cuts in the area, which would remove the vast majority of trees in over 17,000 acres (26.6 square miles), through logging, road building, and controlled burning, even in inventoried roadless areas (IRAs).  According to the December 1, 2022, Chloride Gold scoping notice signed by Sandpoint District ranger Jessie Berner, over 22,500 acres would undergo “vegetation treatments” including large clearcuts and prescribed burns.  The scoping letter requests public review and comments by Monday, January 16, 2023, for USFS consideration in drafting only an environmental assessment (EA), not the full environmental impact statement (EIS) required and necessary for the CG onslaught.

On September 27, 2022, in preparation for a public presentation and field trip refuting this logging project, provided by regional, climate activist collective Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) in spring or summer 2023, Northern Rockies wildlands and wildlife activist and GIS researcher Paul Sieracki and two WIRT board members visited the Chloride Gold logging project area [7].  With precise maps in hand while exploring CG forests, these citizen monitors found a highly impacted landscape, crossed by a spaghetti network of roads and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and motorcycle trails, devastated by huge logged areas, and immersed in road dust and subsequent lake haze.  They documented and publicly offered their observations with photographs and descriptions, noting several situations in which further CG ravages could severely disturb flora, fauna, and roadless areas [7].  For the Wednesday, January 11, 2023, Climate Justice Forum, weekly radio program produced by WIRT and recorded and posted on the WIRT website, Paul graciously expounded on his knowledge of the probable damages of the lakeside Chloride Gold scheme [8].  WIRT shares a summary of these insights in the following sections intended to further inform and assist public input resisting this CG cause of regional climate chaos.

Old-Growth Forests & Carbon Storage

The Chloride Gold area hosts few stands of old-growth, due to past burning and logging and the USFS systematically refusing to designate 25 to 35 percent of the forested area as recruitment stands that would eventually age and diversify into old-growth, if allowed by climate change.  CG project approval would greatly reduce the exceptional carbon storage of area old growth, by permitting logging of 12.5 square miles of forest habitat and building of 23.8 miles of new roads.  Even if the Forest Service decommissions and “stores” these roads after this timber sale, affected road beds would require years for trees to grow back and heal this fragmented habitat.  As greenhouse gases (GHGs) continue to increase and further stress local forests and the planet, the USFS has not accounted for the Chloride Gold GHGs inflicted by logging trucks, milling processes, and rail transportation of CG wood to distant markets, which all exacerbate climate chaos.

Wildland Urban Interface

Although most of the Chloride Gold timber sale reaches far beyond a few tiny, lakeshore settlements and a small part extends into Kootenai County, Bonner County has delineated the project area as a “wildland urban interface” (WUI).  This “arbitrary or capricious” designation lacks scientific validity, and Forest Service use of this county WUI design may be illegal under the Administrative Procedures Act, as a case against the Hanna Flats timber sale near Priest Lake currently contends.  Designating broad landscapes as WUI distorts the concept of sacrificing natural forest densities for human structure protection.  Chloride Gold WUI boundaries inexplicably extend far up drainages like Gold Creek and are dropped in other locations that do not provide adequate fire breaks.  The Idaho Panhandle National Forests must replace this inconsistent paradigm with the Structure Ignition Zone defined by fire scientists, including retired Forest Service researcher Dr. Jack Cohen.

Roadless Expanses, Watersheds, & Fisheries

With the Chloride Gold project, the Forest Service aims to log more of the already degraded headwaters of the Gold Creek watershed, and to liquidate almost 43 percent of forests upstream of the Gold Creek-West Gold Creek confluence.  The agency proposes an outrageous, two-mile-long “shelter wood” cut on the south side of North Gold Creek, which would leave few trees standing and significantly remove an unroaded area that should be included in the adjacent Packsaddle roadless area.  CG would also log off about one third of the Declaration Creek watershed.  The south side of Declaration Creek is unroaded and should be included in the adjacent Magee roadless area.  The USFS must evaluate both the North Gold Creek and Declaration Creek drainages as “roadless expanses”: areas adjacent to IRAs that provide qualities that are similar to and suitable for addition to those roadless areas.  Instead, this logging project would degrade both these roadless expanses and nearby IRAs.

To distract and deceive the public that the Chloride Gold project is beneficial for north Idaho environments, the Forest Service plans to remove a small, abandoned, timber dam on lower Gold Creek and construct new culverts or bridges to route motorized vehicles out of creek-crossing trails, to minimize damage to bull trout home waters.  Upper Gold Creek and North Gold Creek flow into the federally designated, critical habitat of Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed, threatened bull trout in Gold Creek.  Declaration Creek flows into the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River that harbors critical bull trout habitat and an emerging, high-quality fishery for westslope cutthroat trout.  Excessive CG road building and logging and other invasive USFS activities in the upper reaches of these watersheds would potentially add sediment to critical habitat and harm bull trout, despite down-gradient, in-stream measures like dam removal and bridge and culvert installation.

Wildlife & Plant Communities

The east side of Lake Pend Oreille functions as a corridor for grizzly bear populations moving between the Selkirk-Cabinet-Yaak and Selway-Bitterroot ecosystems and grizzly bear recovery areas.  Packsaddle Mountain provides excellent grizzly denning habitat.  But the 15-year-long Chloride Gold timber sale would reduce the possibility of grizzly bears re-occupying the area.  Although no records of fishers exist in the project area, fishers are also sensitive to recent logging, and as little as five percent of forests newly opened would decrease their potential to select those areas as habitat.  Forest removal would also chronically disturb elk.

The IPNF has identified occupied flammulated owl habitat in the Chloride Gold project area and proposes to create more habitat, but may damage the owl’s territories and food sources.  The Forest Service plans to log and underburn in the spring, but has not located active nest trees and snags for protection.  These tactics could potentially burn nest trees, remove the moths that flammulated owls feed upon while nesting, and destroy the potential for burned sites to produce insect food during the crucial spring season.  The fall 2022, WIRT field trip through the CG area witnessed many acres of suitable flammulated owl habitat and wondered if the USFS has or will conduct additionally surveys.  The Forest Service also found active northern goshawk territory in CG and has proposed logging all around the nest stand and putting a road through the center of this forest.

Although the IPNF has not described its experimental design in the Chloride Gold scoping notice, the Forest Service plans to experiment on a population of the sensitive orchid species called clustered lady’s slipper.  The CG project would underburn or partially log over these native plants, to ascertain what happens to them.  But opening up these stands would encourage impacts from heavy machinery, trampling by large animals, and desiccation from increased heat and wind in thinned forests, not to mention the higher temperatures and greater evapotranspiration caused by rapid, abrupt climate change in the near future.  Instead, the USFS should monitor adjacent, existing clearcuts, to see if clustered lady’s slipper numbers grow in these younger plantations.

Green Mountain Silica & Newport Smelter

WIRT and allies are concerned about the potential relationships among the silicon smelter proposed for 188 acres of Newport, Washington, land still owned by PacWest, a Green Mountain silica deposit and its recent, exploratory drilling and $220 million, Pend Oreille Silica (POS) mining claim for sale, and extensive, planned Chloride Gold clearcuts on public lands around this mineral resource [5, 9, 10].  Because both wood and silica would fuel the proposed smelter, WIRT wonders if the Forest Service not only lusts for the dead trees delivered by the adjacent Buckskin Saddle (BS) and Chloride Gold deforestations, but also for the silica under them, which the IPNF already approved for initial mining.  The agency could also front several other excuses for clearing the “overburden” (forests and soils) over lucrative silica deposits that seem to daily increase in their value for “renewable” energy uses, like the new gold, lithium.  IPNF could scare locals into “restoration” clearcutting to remove fire danger (aka trees), suspiciously ignited more often by profuse off-road vehicles and their exhaust, than by climate-fueled wildfires in the area [11].  Or it could salvage-log burned, potential wilderness areas and documented grizzly and bull trout habitat, after “accidental” forest fires remove regulatory obstacles.  The USFS could even strike a deal with local environmental groups, convincing them to sacrifice their protection of forests gracing the entire east side of Lake Pend Oreille, in exchange for permanent wilderness designation of a tiny, “rock and ice,” mountainous area, from which hikers and the spoiled victors can view lakeside BS and CG forest devastation for decades into the future.

Compromised Collaboratives

Regional, conservation organizations Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (FSPW), Idaho Conservation League (ICL), and The Lands Council, (TLC) have been attending meetings of the Panhandle Forest Collaborative for several years, negotiating compromises that support the USFS lie that clearcut logging and roadbuilding represent beneficial “restoration” projects.  In his last opinion piece before his death, which appeared in the September 2, 2021, Sandpoint Reader and was quickly removed from its website, effective, lifelong conservationist Barry Rosenberg described the devastation of the Buckskin Saddle timber sale, similar and next to Chloride Gold, as

…One of the largest, if not the largest, ever analyzed under one environmental assessment on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and a contributor to climate change.  This sale was approved by the Panhandle Forest Collaborative, which is composed of representatives from the Forest Service, timber industry, politicians, stakeholders, and three regional, environmental groups: [FSPW, ICL, and TLC].  None of these environmental groups officially objected or spoke out publicly against the sale.  These environmental groups, by approving the Buckskin Saddle timber sale, are complicit in the disregard of the Earth’s biggest environmental problem: climate change and damage to the area’s ecology [12].

Possibly in response, Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness sponsored Sandpoint Reader staff to write a six-part series published between February and November 2022, titled Conservation: From the Timber Wars to Collaboration.  With few exceptions, the author and interviewed experts featured in these articles generally laud conservation organizations’ acquiescence to the majority timber industry, motorized recreation, and corporate-influenced government participants in collaborative schemes and green groups’ compliance with other stakeholders’ wildfire fear-mongering, mountain forest-hacking, wildlife home-wrecking, water-degrading, and climate-altering, timber sale designs, such as Chloride Gold and Buckskin Saddle.

But in collaboratives, sold-out environmental organizations do not accurately represent, and actually betray, the nature-protective interests of their members and the larger, wild and “civilized” community of affected ecosystems.  Apparently, they will undertake extensive, thinly-veiled propaganda feats to uphold their deceptive, public illusion of cooperation and solution.  Some non-collaborative, outshouted citizens have suggested that defunding the National Forest Foundation, which facilitates logging collaboratives, could start to address and eliminate this insidious corruption that further threatens the viability of forests and their inhabitants, defenders, and rural communities [3].

Oppose the Chloride Gold Timber Sale!

On behalf of the Inland Empire Task Force, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Earth Guardians, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide on January 13, 2023, Paul Sieracki and other regional activists and organizations generously compiled and sent to the Idaho Panhandle National Forests hundreds of pages of diligently detailed comments on the Chloride Gold scoping notice [13].  As suggested by the Sandpoint Ranger District for comments on its scoping notice, Paul focused on proposed USFS activities and their potential environmental impacts, grouped by resource and specific area numbers.  WIRT understands that few, rare activists can invest so much effort in resisting government destruction of public lands, and we appreciate the exemplary work and comments of Paul and allied organizations.

But protection of Lake Pend Oreille watershed and ecosystem health requires the support of all its residents.  Please comment against the climate-wrecking Chloride Gold deforestation fiasco before and AFTER January 16, 2023, by visiting the USFS website page for the CG project, reading other letters, and offering your objections through that platform, or by directly emailing project contact Douglas Nishek at douglas.nishek@usda.gov, with “Chloride Gold Project” in the subject line, or calling 208-267-6765, or sending hardcopy mail to the Sandpoint Ranger District, 1602 Ontario Street, Sandpoint, ID 83864, Attn: Doug Nishek [14].  Ask the Forest Service to extend the scoping comment period by an additional 30 days, due to lack of USFS information and public knowledge about CG and its public input timeframe overlapping with winter holidays and vacations, and request that IPNF include your remarks in the public record for Chloride Gold #60856.  The Forest Service expects to reach a decision on CG by September 2023 and to implement road building, logging, burning, and reducing ecological and social conditions by June 2024.

[1] Gas Well Spacing and Lakeside Logging Comments, Tribal Paddle and Oil Train Protest Reports, and More, August 25, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[2] Chloride Gold Project Aims to Boost Forest Health, Bull Trout Habitat, December 10, 2022 Bonner County Daily Bee

[3] AWR, WIRT, and myself just objected to the destructive Buckskin Saddle logging project…, August 27, 2020 Paul Sieracki

[4] Forest Service Finalizes Restoration Plans for Buckskin Saddle Area, April 30, 2021 Bonner County Daily Bee

[5] Stop 123,000-Plus Acres of Pend Oreille Lakeside Logging! November 7, 2021 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] Johnson Creek Bridge to Be Replaced, June 4, 2022 Bonner County Daily Bee

[7] Chloride Gold Deforestation First Field Trip 9-27-22, January 15, 2023 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[8] Climate Justice Forum: Paul Sieracki on Chloride Gold Idaho Lakeside Deforestation, Nevada Lithium Mine Resistance March, Hearing, and Contract, Manchin FERC Protest, Actions Honoring Joye Braun 1-11-23, January 11, 2023 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] North Idaho Logging for Newport Smelter? May 25, 2020 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[10] Pend Oreille Silica Deposit Investment Opportunity, Ponderay, Idaho – Listing Details, January 14, 2023 Point2

[11] Fire crews are on scene of the Falls Creek wildfire on the east side of Lake Pend Oreille…, July 31, 2022 North Idaho News

[12] Lakeside Timber Sale = Climate Wildfires Prevail! September 11, 2021 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[13] Chloride Gold #60856 Public Comment/Objection Reading Room, U.S. Forest Service

[14] Chloride Gold, U.S. Forest Service

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