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Commissioners hear community forest proposal

| April 30, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

Responding to the prospective subdivision of thousands of acres of timber land in Lincoln County, the Yaak Valley Forest Council is proposing an ambitious ³community forest² project that member Rick Bass likens to ³stewardship on steroids.²

Council members briefed the Lincoln County Commissioners on the proposal on Wednesday. The group envisions an initial public purchase of at least 10,000 to 20,000 acres of Plum Creek and Stimson lands, predominantly in the Troy area, to make the project workable.

³It could expand to 100,000, 200,000 acres,² Bass said. ³It could be as big as we want it to be if we could get the money.²

The land would be managed like ³a tiny, junior national forest² by a board representing a broad range of interests, Bass said.

Robyn King called the proposal ³an experiment in ecological and economic and social sustainability.²

The group¹s plan calls for the land to be managed to keep access open and allow for motorized and non-motorized recreation along with the harvest of merchantable timber.

³This is an economic development package,² King said. ³That¹s how we¹re looking at this.²

The proposal is a reaction to Plum Creek Timber Co.¹s moves toward selling large tracts of land for residential and commercial development.

³We see this latest Plum Creek real estate development as being both a thing of fear and an opportunity,² Bass said.

The subdivision of prime bottomland real estate, which is also grizzly bear habitat, could result in further restrictions on access to public lands in Lincoln County, Bass said.

The group envisions obtaining support from conservation groups to help fund the project.

³We¹re providing a service to the landscape that the environmentalists claim to desire,² Bass said.

Commissioner Rita Windom pointed out that a 142,000-acre conservation easement on Plum Creek lands in the Fisher and Thompson river drainages — which Plum Creek still owns and is allowed to manage for timber production — cost $34 million.

³I could see this as being a huge money requirement,² she said. ³Huge.²

³It¹s a big idea, Rita, no question about it,² Tim Linehan said. ³But it¹s an idea right now. We¹re just trying to find out who thinks what.²

The group plans to discuss its proposal in depth with Plum Creek representatives. The commissioners also suggested discussing the issue with the group Communities for a Great Northwest, which in the past proposed a similar plan.