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Roadless lands at center of forest plan discussions

| August 24, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Wilderness advocates and motorized-use proponents continued to speak out for their interests last week during another in a series of citizens meetings to recommend changes in the Kootenai National Forest's proposed management plan update.

"The battle is over roadless lands," said Cesar Hernandez of the Cabinet Resource Group, referring to the centerpiece of debate over the new plan.

Past sessions of meetings designed to tweak the Libby geographic area portion of the new plan's starting option tended to be overly general rather than focusing on specific proposals. But on Thursday, Aug. 18, most of the comments by those assembled at the Kootenai supervisor's office pinpointed aspects of the plan that might be amended.

The evening's most significant step was agreement to create an entirely new designation for motorized use during winter months. The starting option released by the U.S. Forest Service included categories of land designated non-motorized year-round and motorized year-round.

Malcolm Edwards of Canoe Gulch Ranger District, who directed last week's meeting, said the new category is something he could live with.

In addition, the citizens group discussed which type of access and use are appropriate for the Zulu inventoried roadless area, the Montanore Mine project, as well as Gold Hill and Flagstaff areas.

In each case, proponents on both sides of the motorized issue agreed that more detailed maps were needed before decisions could be made as to boundaries for motorized and non-motorized use. Edwards agreed to provide topographical maps at the group's next meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25, in order to allow decisions to be made.

Hernandez raised the need to protect the Bear Creek North area from motorized winter use, saying it has the highest density of denning bears on the Kootenai. Snowmobiles should not be allowed near denning areas because the human encroachment can have negative effects on denning bruins, he said.

Meanwhile, representatives of local snowmobile clubs spoke in favor of retaining Bear Creek as a year-round motorized use area. They said only limited snowmobiling is done in the area because snow conditions are not conducive to high-marking and other extreme aspects of the sport.

Again, a decision was delayed until the Aug. 25 meeting.

The Libby geographic area citizens committee will try to wrap up its recommended changes to the starting options in time to present them during the group's Sept. 1 meeting. Forest Supervisor Bob Castenada is scheduled to be present at that session, which will be held at the supervisor's office from 6 to 8 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

A citizens group meeting on the Yaak geographic area portion of the forest plan revision will be held this week. The session from 6 to 8 p.m. is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Upper Yaak Work Center.