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Kimbell hears forest planning concerns

| May 26, 2004 12:00 AM

By Roger Morris, Western News Publisher

Community and county leaders expressed concerns Friday morning to Northern Region Forester Gail Kimbell about recent forest planning meetings.

The major concern was that the Forest Service was not listening to the majority in an effort for the various geographical area groups to reach consensus on issues.

³The majority opinion was never reported on from the groups, only those things that the people agreed upon,² said State Rep. Aubyn Curtiss of Fortine. ³I think if the majority opinion had been reported more accurately, there would be less dissension.²

Lincoln County Commissioner John Konzen said he attended meetings for both the Yaak and the Troy geographic areas and found them frustrating. The two big concerns are the timber harvest targets are too low for healthy forests and recreational access, Konzen said.

³People are unsure if they will be heard,² he said. ³You see all kinds of efforts going on but not from the center.²

Commissioner Rita Windom said she observed participation by environmentalists and recreationists and not the logging community.

³Why didn¹t the logging community show up? Because they are frustrated,² Windom said.

The Libby GA meetings did not represent the community, Windom said.

³I don¹t think you¹re going to get comments from the majority,² she

continued. They are burned out. You¹re only hearing from the extremes. That¹s why you have to listen to the elected representatives, we do hear from our constituents.²

Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda said there is talk about resuming meetings to discuss the unresolved issues of access and the roadless areas.

Russ Gautreaux from the Three Rivers Ranger District said a continued effort would have to focus on areas people do agree on. ³There is a lot of common ground,² he said.

³From what I hear from local people is there is not going to be a compromise,² Konzen said. ³They¹ve given in before and lost their jobs.²

Wilderness and roadless is going to remains controversial, Konzen said.

³What¹s talked about with a new roadless rule is working with forest planners to create a (roadless) baseline,² Kimbell said. ³The governor of each state could then petition the secretary of agriculture to make additions or deletions.²

It puts the states in a role they previously didn¹t have, she said.

³I think the process needs to begin with the county commissioners and their recommendations passed on to the governors,² said State Rep. Rick Maedje of Fortine.

³Is there a consideration of the vast majority or do we have to consider the opinions of people back east? asked Maedje.

Kimbell said, ³It¹s not a voting process and they are national forests. We give strong consideration to local comments.²

Castaneda repeated that message and said the forest planners do not count comments but consider the actual comment with attention toward ecological sustainability.

³To me what¹s important is what people say,² he said.

County officials were reminded that the Forest Service had to follow laws and regulations and people shouldn¹t consider that a case of being ignored.

³Our communication challenge is explaining to people why we can¹t do things,² said Greg Kujawa, public information officer for the KNF.

Referring to a past recreation survey, Maedje said people are ³voting with their feet in how they use this forest which is mostly motorized.²

Kimbell said it was important to keep discussions active on the unresolved issues ? to understand the viewpoints of the polarized groups.

In other discussion, Kimbell said she wasn¹t sure what the impacts would be of a proposal to transfer all Forest Service human resource and technology employees to centralized locations.

³That¹s disturbing to us because it¹s the loss of jobs and salary and quality people from the community,² Konzen said.

³We haven¹t seen the proposal yet, it was due out at the end of April,² Kimball said. ³We don¹t know how many people would be affected.²

In Montana, it could involve as many as 200 Forest Service employees, she said.

³It may make relocation of some positions to a central location. It may not.² Kimball continued. ³It¹s very hard to compete with us because some of the people do one thing for part of the year and another thing for the rest of the year.²

Some of the changes are being proposed because of a need to modernize the agency¹s accounting system.

³We don¹t know what functions will be centralized yet,² she said. ³We do know we need local services.²

Also, State Rep. Eileen Carney of Libby asked if the Forest Service could do something about enforcing the defensible space around homes built out in the forest or face the consequence of perhaps paying for the fire fighting costs to protect those homes.

She noted that the state ends up sharing a small percentage of the overall fire-fighting cost every year.

Kimbell said the Forest Service can¹t but the county can pass such requirements.

Kujawa said the county¹s new road ordinance provides easier and safer access and evacuation of subdivisions. ³It¹s a good first step,² he said.