The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demands the removal of hundreds of trees along a levee mainly because regulations require it. Local government tells anguished citizens that there is no choice but to comply, otherwise there will be no relief funds in case of a flood. But, the Corps failed to account for the presence of endangered species. The Corps runs afoul of the Idaho Forest Practices Act. The Corps doesn’t have science to back up their decision-making.
Coeur d’Alene in 2011? Nope. St. Maries in 1997.
One advantage to being the oldest conservation organization in Idaho is that we’ve got some really old files. Indeed, the trees along Coeur d’Alene’s dike road are facing the very same threat from the Corps of Engineers that mature Cottonwood trees along the levees in St. Maries suffered in 1997. Unfortunately, in St. Maries, a lot of trees were lost.
With significant flooding in Benewah County in 1996, the Corps of Engineers took a hard look at the flood protection along the St. Joe River, and the vegetation on the levees came under scrutiny. Of course, the levees were not the weak link in the flood protection in 1996. And trees were not part of any levee failure. Nevertheless, under a federal economic development grant to improve the levees, trees were being cut by Benewah County under instructions by the Corps.
As the trees were coming down, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, noting that bald eagle habitat was being eliminated. The Idaho Department of Lands intervened, noting that the tree cutting needed to comply with the Idaho Forest Practices Act. The science was questioned. The Audubon Society (with local attorney Scott Reed) threatened a lawsuit.
Unfortunately though, much of the damage had been done. The “Shadowy St. Joe” lost a whole lot of its shade. Ultimately, some trees were spared, some eagle habitat mitigated, but most of the trees were removed in the name of flood control. Here’s hoping for a better outcome this time.