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Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho

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The tribe can appeal 5th District Court Judge Barry Wood's refusal to disqualify himself from the tribe's water rights claims, Idaho's Supreme Court ruled. "We are very pleased with the court's decision to hear the issue of Judge Wood's disqualification at this time,'' Chairman Samuel N. Penney said after the July 21 ruling. He wants a ruling on the judge's conflict of interest before an appeal is heard on his water rights decision. Wood presides over the Snake River Basin Adjudication, a water rights case with more than 150,000 claims in 38 of Idaho's 44 counties. He twice turned down motions to recuse himself. February and May tribal motions contend Wood and two family members have claims in direct conflict with claims made by the tribe. Wood ruled any perceived conflict was so small as to have no impact on his rulings and that the tribe had failed to show enough of a conflict to justify his disqualification. The motion granted was for "permissive appeal'' specifically in the in-stream flow subcase, but any decision could impact all SRBA cases. If the Supreme Court agrees and removes him from the case, a new judge will have to be found before SRBA can continue.

The BIA has approved the tribe's application to put more than 1,200 acres of timber land in Lewis County into trust with the U.S. government. If not appealed, the land will be moved into trust status Aug. 12. But, according to Lewis County Commissioner Joe Leitch, the county plans to appeal the decision. Trust land cannot be taxed. The benefit to the tribe includes insurance the land will be around for future generations, as well as financial benefits. With the land in trust, the tribe is eligible for some federal money for forest and road development.

The U.S. Forest Service reversed a decision to log and burn thousands of acres sandwiched between the Lochsa River and the historic Lewis and Clark Trail because of ambiguities regarding road obliteration and potential release of sediment into streams. The plan to log more than 8,200 acres of the 128,000-acre area was appealed by the tribe, Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow, Idaho Conservation League, Friends of the Earth of Seattle and the Resource Organization On Timber Supply. Clearwater officials said they would correct the problems and resubmit the plan. Under a 1993 lawsuit settlement between the Clearwater and environmental groups, the forest cannot undertake any actions that will result in a net increase in sediments in streams that do not meet the forest's own water quality standards. Environmentalists said forest officials should strive to reduce sediment, not simply offset it, especially in drainages that provide habitat for salmon and steelhead. The project, in the works for about six years, calls for planned, fuel-reducing fires on about 12,000 acres of forest and logging of more than 75 million board feet of timber. Nearly 100 miles of roads would be obliterated under the plan endorsed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Conservation groups filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a decision not to list the westslope cutthroat trout as a threatened species. In April, the service cited some 700 projects to protect the fish, ranging from keeping cattle out of streams to a proposal to poison all fish in 77 miles of the Cherry Creek drainage near Bozeman and replace them with westslopes. A federal review of westslopes in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington found the fish inhabit 23,000 miles of streams, six lakes in Idaho and 20 more in Glacier National Park. Conservation groups argue the trout has been wiped out in mainstream waters, its habitat reduced to small headwaters. The tribe found two-thirds of populations sampled in the North Fork of the Clearwater River had some level of rainbow trout genes. State Fish and Game concluded many samples also contained pure fish. Last year Fish and Game began planting only sterile rainbow trout in northern Idaho's Dworshak Reservoir to guard against further hybridization in the upper Clearwater River. The tribe wants to develop a brood stock of pure cutthroat trout and plant them in Dworshak in the hopes they will overwhelm the rainbows and hybrids.

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