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KNF focuses on goals for harvest, fuels reduction

| June 3, 2005 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

The Kootenai National Forest is expected to come close to hitting its targets for timber sales and hazardous fuels reduction this year despite being hampered by budget cuts and lawsuits, Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda told the Lincoln County Commissioners this week.

The fuels reduction goal is to have treated 5,800 acres by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

"I think we're just about on target for this year," Castaneda told the commissioners on Wednesday.

"Fifty-eight hundred acres is better than nothing but it's really insignificant when you look at the size of the forest," said Commissioner John Konzen.

The Forest Service could increase the target with more funding, Castaneda said.

"It all goes back to funding, doesn't it?" said Commissioner Marianne Roose.

This year's goal for timber sales is 55 million board feet. Of that, 20 million has already been sold, and Castaneda said he feels "pretty confident" that the number of acres sold will climb to 50 million by the end of the year.

"The 20 looks low, and it is low compared to the 55," Castaneda said. "We'll be selling more. The question is how much of it will end up in litigation."

Three projects totaling more than 30 million board feet are currently in limbo due to lawsuits filed last November by environmental groups over grizzly bear habitat. Located in the Troy, Eureka and Trout Creek areas, the projects include some portions that have already been sold and others scheduled for sale over the next two years.

A nationwide trend toward reduced funding is having impacts across the Kootenai, Castaneda said.

"It continues to be funding in whatever program we have, whether it's timber, fuels, recreation," he said.

Konzen suggested the commissioners write a letter to Congress pointing out that the lack of funding hamstrings the Forest Service as badly as lawsuits.

Timber sale levels are projected to remain relatively stable over the next two years. Sales are down significantly from the late 1990s, when targets reached levels of more than 100 million board feet, but are up from a low of a little over 30 million in 2003.

A trend toward centralization is resulting in budget cuts and a loss of personnel on the Kootenai. About a dozen positions in information technology are being lost this year, with those jobs being moved to Albuquerque, N.M. Several more positions in human resources are expected to be moved to Albuquerque next year, and studies are planned to look into the feasibility of centralizing other services over the next few years.