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Commissioners support KNF decision to designate 'wildland'

| November 29, 2005 11:00 PM

Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to Abigail R. Kimbell, regional forester for U.S. Forest Service Region One, regarding the forest plan revision for the Kootenai National Forest.

Dear Ms. Kimbell:

The vast majority of Lincoln County is encompassed by the Kootenai National Forest, and the KNF provides the predominant resources for the economic and recreational sustenance for our residents and businesses. Thus, proposals, decisions, and actions affecting the management of the KNF are of critical importance to our constituency. The most recent major proposal of concern is the Draft Forest Plan Revision.

For more than two years (since June of 2003) we have been steadfastly engaged in this Revision process, first attending dozens of "geographic area" meetings all across the county under the "old rule", followed by extensive participation in the collaborative process under the "new rule". During this process, we were also regularly briefed by Supervisor Castaneda and his staff.

The background this involvement has given us, and our mandate as elected officials to represent the majority interests of our constituency, while striving also to accommodate minority interests, leads us to applaud the resultant Draft KNF Plan. It clearly is more responsive to the majority of opinion we heard throughout the process than was the Starting Option.

Obviously, the most contentious and devisive issue throughout the process was that of recommended Wilderness. We are particularly pleased with Supervisor Castaneda's handling of this issue. The new "wildlands" classification, notwithstanding the immediate outcry from many in the environmental community, provides for all the protection of "Wilderness" and its adjunctive opportunities, without perpetuating a designation that requires Congressional action to culminate. Furthermore, this classification does nothing to obstruct any group, individual, or agency to pursue changes in individual area classification throughout the life of the Plan.

One of the reasons we commented favorably on the implementation of the "new" planning rule was its emphasis on directing the Responsible Official to meet with, seek assistance from, and provide early opportunities for local governments to be involved and participate in planning for NFS lands. The results we are seeing on the Kootenai NF are positive in this respect.

Summarily, we look at the Draft KNF Plan, not as the result of "capitulation" or "weakness", as has been alluded by some, but rather the result of careful and meaningful consideration of how forest management can provide a framework for continuing to provide for our needs while, at the same time, striving to attain and maintain current perceptions of "desired future conditions" regardless of labels. Any objective examination of this Draft Plan must recognize that it officially protects the wilderness characteristics and values of many thousands of more acres than did the previous Plan, and much more clearly defines appropriate recreational opportunities throughout the forest.

We look forward to continuing to work with the KNF Supervisor, the planning team, our District rangers, and their staffs to finalize a Plan that will help guide an adaptive management philosophy that can better respond to needs of the forest, and at the same time provide for the economic and recreational needs of our residents.

Sincerely,

Lincoln County Commissioners