Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Roadless talk polarizes Yaak, Bull Lake plan groups

| April 7, 2004 12:00 AM

The issue of roadless area management emerged as the most polarized topic in the Forest Plan Revision Workgroups for the Bull and Yaak Geographic areas concluded last month.

Meetings began in September, after an initial kickoff gathering to explain the forest plan revision process and role of the workgroups. Roughly 450 people turned out for the kickoff meeting for the Bull and more than 200 people for the Yaak.

³The intent was to have small groups in each GA, roughly 8 to 10 people,² said Mike Balboni, district ranger for Three Rivers Ranger District. ³It didn¹t turn out that way. We had larger groups, with 20 to 40 people who would routinely show up.²

The Libby GA workgroup will conclude its meetings this month.

Members of the groups worked within seven primary areas that the Forest Service felt needed addressing.

³The emphasis was to produce what we call desired future condition statements,² Balboni said. ³The workgroups generated input on what they would like the forest planning teams to look at and in other cases, actual things they¹d like to see happen.²

In the case of roadless area management, the workgroups were unable to come to a consensus. Balboni said that polarized issues that did not yield clear answers could be addressed individually by the members in the form of written statements sent to the forest planning team.

³All of this information gets funneled into a planning team and they will use it to help develop alternatives for the planning revision,² Balboni said.

Once the planning team uses the feedback and formulates a draft, the workgroups will reconvene and examine the document to see how their input was incorporated.

³That way they¹ll have another chance to see what the planning team¹s come up with and maybe make some suggestions on how to adjust that before the planning team releases the draft,² Balboni said.

Forest access was a widely discussed issue, each workgroup attempting to develop input that fit within the laws and regulations governing the Forest Service.

³The flexibility we have is relatively limited, but the groups did give us some good information on things that they would like that I think we can incorporate,² Balboni said.

The forest-wide goal for access is to ensure access to National Forest System lands through the maintenance and improvement of roads and trails, while managing within the capability of the ecosystems.

In the Bull workgroup, the members developed a desired condition statement that involved minimizing conflicts in regards to negative impacts among different types of forest users and enhancing positive experiences for those users.

³Motorized and non-motorized opportunities will be provided,² the desired condition statement continued. ³When routes are proposed for designation for motorized use, consideration will be given for loop and scenic opportunities along with ecological and social considerations.²

Keeler Loop Road and Smith Mountain Road were two examples of priority areas.

The Yaak workgroup generated a similar statement for access, adding that a handicapped hunter access program should be continued and no fees should be imposed for parking or access.

In addition, the Yaak workgroup members included in their statement that the agency should promote consideration, awareness, and knowledge regarding the various types of users and proper use techniques and consider a rotation for road openings to allow for firewood gathering. Providing safe parking and turnaround areas for trailers was also a group priority, as was maintaining open roads year round.

The groups also showed a collective interest in forest health, specifically fuels reduction and the commercial utilization of the material once removed from high fire risk areas. Working with local fire departments to establish priorities for fuels reduction projects and focusing on Wildland Urban Interface projects were also given priority by the Bull workgroup.

³Increase the amount of National Forest lands restored to or maintained in a healthy condition, with reduced risk and damage from fires, insects and diseases, and invasive species,² the Bull workgroup members wrote in their desired condition statement. ³Encourage the development and retention of fire resistant species and stands.²

The group added in its statement that when and where appropriate, the Forest Service should allow the natural role of fire to run its course in wilderness areas, proposed wilderness areas, and roadless areas.

³It may be desirable to use thinning as a tool to safely introduce fire to some areas, utilizing merchantable material to contribute products to the local economy,² the statement read.

Mitigating the spread of noxious weeds emerged as a priority for both groups, suggesting the utilization of non-herbicide forms of weed control and encouraging more aggressive weed control using all available treatments. Using winter operations for controlling weeds was also a suggestion.

For timber production, the Yaak workgroup suggested increasing the number of stewardship projects to benefit the community and utilizing more categorical exclusions to reduce the fuel load and expedite salvage timber removal.

Balboni said that overall the workgroup process was successful in generating valuable input for the planning teams.

³The groups really did a good job,² he said. ³The really difficult issues they couldn¹t resolve, but you can see from their statements they did come to some conclusions, some of them are pretty general, but there were some good specifics.²

Many of the workgroup members were active in the process from the inception to the completion, which Balboni said was impressive to watch.

³I really was pleased with the amount of people that stuck with it,² he said. ³Rarely would there be a night that we had less than 20 people. Now the planning team will figure out how to mesh that information together.²