The Nez Perce and environmentalists are applauding a federal judge’s ruling that forbids the shipment of mega-loads through tribal territory without further review and directs the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a study of the scenic corridor and consult with the tribe.
“The tribe is pleased the court’s decision recognizes the tribe’s sovereignty, and its rights and interests,” said Nez Perce Tribal Council Chairman Silas Whitman in a statement on September 13 when the ruling was issued. “The tribe will not let U.S. Highway 12—both through the National Forest and Wild and Scenic River corridor and the Nez Perce Reservation—be transformed into an industrial corridor.”
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said that an earlier decision had held that the forest service had authority over mega-loads that wound along the federally designated scenic highway, which winds through the Nez Perce reservation just 50 feet from the tribe’s creation place. But when the Idaho Transportation Department awarded a permit to shipping company Omega Morgan to haul a 644,000-pound, football-field-sized piece of equipment along the highway in August, the forest service declined to review it.
Whitman and several other council members were among 30 arrested when they blockaded the midnight shipment in protest. The protesters delayed but did not stop the load from continuing on to its destination, the Alberta oil sands.
Winmill called the forest service’s interpretation of its review obligations as voluntary “erroneous” and ordered the agency to take stronger action.
“In an earlier decision in a related case, the court held that the Forest Service must ‘enforce all relevant legal authorities, including, but not limited to, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,’ ” Winmill wrote in his ruling, according to The Spokesman-Review. “The Forest Service was taking the position that it had authority to review but not to enforce. Obviously, that was an erroneous reading of the court’s decision.”
The Nez Perce have been protesting the transport of equipment bound for the oil sands up north through their territory for more than two years.
The Nez Perce have said they are not only protecting their own territory but also the lands of brethren up north, as well as the climate of our very planet. The support has been echoed by other tribal groups. Last week the Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission passed a resolution condemning the practice.
Omega Morgan was transporting water evaporators for General Electric subsidiary RCCI to the oil sands. RCCI said in a statement that the judge’s ruling was disappointing and said it had met all legal obligations and obtained the necessary permits.
The Nez Perce plan to keep fighting.
“The tribe will continue to consult with the forest service, under the forest service’s obligation as a trustee, to ensure this unique area of the country and our homeland is not transformed into an industrial corridor,” Whitman reiterated in the tribe’s statement.