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Aspects of forest plan concern county

| July 8, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Lincoln County Commissioners got a preview of the starting point for discussions about the Kootenai National Forest's new management plan Wednesday, and they weren't thrilled with some aspects.

Commissioner John Konzen noticed that forest lands near Troy are slated for "moderate intensity management" instead of the "high intensity management" of some parcels near Libby. He indicated a preference for more timber harvesting in the Troy area.

"I see one 6C (high intensity) in the entire Three Rivers district," Konzen said. "I don't know what that reflects."

"It reflects what people were saying up there (during previous public meetings) and that Troy is composed primarily of bear management areas," Kootenai National Forest planner Kirsten Kaiser said.

Commissioner Marianne Roose added that past meetings in Eureka brought out strong support for snowmachine and ATV use, but those activities don't appear to be emphasized in the plan — which is ready for a new round of meetings next week to continue shaping its language.

"It seems like the majority of the people were not heard," Roose said. "Ten percent of the people's voice carried more than the others. We heard these comments over and over, that they were wasting their time."

Kootenai National Forest public affairs officer Greg Kujawa said forest management doesn't boil down to a popularity contest among county residents.

"It's too complex to be a simple voting process," he said, adding that some watersheds in the Kootenai "are hurting from past harvesting."

Konzen agreed with Roose that public testimony wasn't built into the document, at least at this stage.

"I'm kind of astonished at this," he said. "But I understand the process is continuing."

Kujawa said forest officials are still crunching numbers to see how much timber will be cut in the next 10 to 15 years. He estimated next year's amount will probably stay at the current level of 50 million board feet.

"We would likely produce more on the forest, but we're only getting so much budget to do timber sales," Kujawa said. The $26 million to $28 million in federal money the Kootenai gets annually must cover recreation needs as well as timber harvests, he said.

Commissioner Rita Windom suggested it might be time to use Lincoln County Resource Advisory Committee funding for timber projects.

"We've been doing the feel-good things" with RAC money, she said.

As for wilderness recommendations, the plan now calls for boosting it from 102,500 acres to 191,600 acres. Areas recommended for wilderness status in the current plan include Cabinet additions, Scotchman Peaks, Ten Lakes Contiguous Area, and the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area. Those also are included in the proposed update.

New areas proposed for wilderness status include Whitefish Divide (the Marston Face and Thompson Seton inventoried roadless areas), Northwest Peaks and Roderick Mountain.

"There's some proposed wilderness here, but we didn't put a whole lot of emphasis on that," Kujawa said.

The last Kootenai forest plan was adopted in 1987. The process has changed since then, with a "starting point" document for public discussions replacing the old practice of offering five alternatives including one tabbed by the Forest Service as its preferred alternative.

Kujawa emphasized that the next round of public meetings provide another chance for the public to get involved. Comment will be taken through the end of August, with a draft forest plan scheduled for release in January or February.

Meetings are scheduled Tuesday, July 12, from 6-8 p.m. at the Troy High School auditorium. The session originally was planned for Troy Ranger District, but was changed to accommodate a larger crowd.

Additional meetings are set for Wednesday, July 13, from 6-8 p.m. at the upper Yaak center and Thursday, July 14, from 6-8 p.m. at the Kootenai National Forest's supervisor's office.

"This is just the beginning point," Kujawa said of the document to be unveiled in the meetings. "I hope people will help us improve this."