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Past wildfire cost forcing KNF budget constraints

| March 4, 2004 11:00 PM

Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda briefed the Lincoln County Commissioners Wednesday on the challenges being brought on by reduced funding and a new emphasis on hazardous fuels reduction efforts.

Castaneda said he is expecting this year¹s budget to be about $1 million less than last year¹s $26 million as the Forest Service continues to feel the impact of the costly fire seasons of recent years. That means fewer seasonal employees are likely to be hired and some local staffers may be given different duties.

³We¹re pretty sure that some permanent employees will be doing work that in the past was done by seasonals,² Castaneda said.

The changes will have a ripple effect across the national forest because the permanent employees who are reassigned will be both higher paid and less experienced in their new duties, Castaneda said. The changes could have a negative effect on the number of projects that are completed, he said.

Various programs on the KNF will feel the impact of the new focus on hazardous fuels reduction. Budget cuts have been made across the board to emphasize the new priorities laid out in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, Castaneda said.

The KNF is targeting 6,500 acres for treatment this year. About two-thirds of that is in wildland-urban interface areas.

The treatment will result in the harvest of little usable timber.

³We¹re not counting on any of our timber program to come from that,² Castaneda said, adding that he would like to see someone come up with a way to use materials harvested on the Kootenai that currently have no commercial value.

The target for this year¹s timber program is the sale of 50.1 million board feet. Last year¹s target — scaled back due to two sales that were the focus of a lawsuit by environmental groups — was 34 million board feet, of which 25.4 million were offered.

In 2002, 50 million board feet were offered out of a target of 68.5 million board feet. The average target during the years 1999 to 2001 was around 78.8 million board feet, of which an average of 57.7 million board feet were offered.