Schweitzer lays out roadless planning approach
BY ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher
The state and the county commissioners in timber counties will decide the fate of roadless lands in Montana, said Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Monday.
In a telephone call to The Western News on Monday, Schweitzer, a Democrat, laid out his plans for dealing with the "roadless issue" as proposed by the Bush Administration.
The governor said he will visit with the Lincoln County Commissioners on Thursday, June 16, in Libby from 2-3 p.m. regarding the latest roadless rule.
Schweitzer said he plans to visit with all the commissioners in all timber counties in the state before holding a group meeting of county commissioners this fall to finalize plans that will be presented to the Forest Service regarding use of roadless areas.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Rick Maedje, a Republican from Fortine, said the county's legislative delegation — Maedje, Rep. Ralph Heinert, R-Libby, and Sen. Aubyn Curtiss, R- Fortine - has organized a meeting for Thursday, June 9, at 7 p.m. in the new high school in Eureka to discuss local management options under Bush's new rule on roadless area of national forest land. According to Maedje, a similar meeting is planned in Libby for July.
President Bush repealed a forest rule in early May that opens nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest land to commercial development.
President Clinton adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule in January 2001. It prevented road building in the designated areas for any purpose, including mining and logging.
Bush's rule allows governors of any state with inventoried roadless areas to petition the Secretary of Agriculture to adopt roadless area management plans for their state.
In Montana, 6.4 million acres of the 16.9 million total acres of national forest land are roadless.
The new rule puts management of roadless areas under directives contained in local forest management plans. The Kootenai National Forest is currently updating its plan.
"Decisions about roadless areas cannot be made without local input," the governor said. "Every area of Montana is distinct and counties with roadless area within their boundaries have unique circumstances. I am committed to gathering input from the communities that are affected by this plan."
Although Schweitzer is following through on his plan to work with county commissioners, he believes the agency that has managed national forest lands for the past 100 years is best suited to continue managing it.
"We're going to do our level best," Schweitzer said. "But I don't know any county commissioners, the highest elected executives in every county, who have a year to work on a developing a forest plan."
"Frankly it puts the county commissioners and governor's office in an undoable situation."
The governor said he is writing President Bush a letter calling the roadless rule issue just another "unfunded mandate" from the federal government.
"I'm letting him know that I have one natural resource advisor doing all of it," Schweitzer said. "The state simply doesn't have the resources for all these mandates."
Schweitzer said the federal government has required the states to get involved in Homeland Security issues but then they took half of the National Guard and its equipment for the war in Iraq.
"Now they're asking to us to take on funding Amtrak in our state because the president's depleted budget doesn't include any money for Amtrak in rural areas," the governor continued.
"These things don't add up to me so we're asking them to add it up," Schweitzer said.