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Burns to host forest planning hearing

| November 10, 2005 11:00 PM

U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) will hold a field hearing in Missoula to gather information and discuss the forest plan revision process in Region One of the Forest Service.

Burns, who is chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, has several concerns about how the process is moving forward.

The hearing will be open to the public, and Burns encourages all interested parties to attend. Entitled "Challenges and Opportunities in Region One Forest Planning," the hearing will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, on the campus of Montana College of Technology at 10:30 a.m.

To provide a contribution to the public understanding of how the Forest Service's planning decisions are made and whether they are consistent with the multiple use mandate, Burns will be inviting Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to offer both his expertise and testimony. "Unlike other federal land management agencies, the Forest Service has a clear multiple-use mandate," Burns said. "I am not convinced that the Forest Service is following this mandate when it makes critical decisions during the planning process on how forests in Montana will be managed."

He continued, "I have received numerous inquiries and complaints from my constituents about the agency further limiting public access by closing established roads and trails, recommending large new areas wilderness designations, and lowering timber harvests to levels that will cripple local economies. It is my intention to pursue these issues at this hearing and receive testimony from a broad array of stakeholder groups including the Forest Service, wilderness advocates, the timber industry, and motorized access users."

Kootenai National Forest supervisor Bob Castaneda unveiled changes to the proposed forest management plan Oct. 17 that delighted motorized recreation users but angered environmentalists. Around 89,000 acres previously designed for wilderness are now be designated it as "wild lands" instead.

Environmentalists called the move "a recipe for polarization," and other wilderness proponents predicted a national backlash.

Local officials and snowmobilers applauded the revision. It allows snowmobilers to keep traditional riding areas such as Northwest Peaks, which is designed a special use area under the revised plan.

Environmentalists are particularly upset that Castaneda's designation puts Montana's section of Scotchman Peaks into the wild lands category while Idaho manages its adjacent portion of the Scotchman as recommended wilderness. They say it violates the stated goal of coordinating management plans for neighboring national forests.

Cesar Hernandez of the Cabinet Resource Group and Montana Wilderness Association said that the revision runs counter to a recommendation published by the U.S. Forest Service in its 2004 Region One Wilderness Needs Assessment. That document says the Flathead quadrant, which includes the Kootenai, is wilderness deficient.

The wild lands designation mirrors congressionally designated wilderness in many ways. Both prohibit motorized use, road building as well as timber harvesting and grazing. Both allow prescribed burning.

Castaneda said he decided to rework the proposed plan because there was such a large amount of land recommended as wilderness, and it would have reduced the number of acres for approved snowmobiling. He noted that his draft plan includes more acres managed for wilderness values than the current plan adopted in 1987 — 252,000 acres to 202,000 acres.

The draft also contains more backcountry designation, including roadless areas, than the current plan or the previous version of the management plan update.

The field hearing on Dec. 2 will be held at the University of Montana College of Technology, Health and Business Building Room 01, 909 South Avenue West in Missoula.

More information can be found in Burns website at http://www.burns.senate.gov , or by calling (800) 344-1513.