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Field hearing focuses on USFS planning

| November 29, 2005 11:00 PM

The bus to take Libby and Troy area residents to a U.S. Senate field hearing in Missoula on Friday, Dec. 2, is far from full, according to Mayor Tony Berget.

Officals are concerned that not enough local people will take advantage of the opportunity to comment at the field hearing on the Forest Service's forest plan revision process in Region One The bus is being sponsored by the City of Libby and Lincoln County.

The hearing is being hosted by U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who is chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. Burns has heard several concerns about how the forest planning process is moving forward.

For the Kootenai National Forest, the forest planning process nearly came to a grinding halt over recreation issues and not the logging and mining issues that dominated local concerns in the past. Countywide, people kept asking the Forest Service for more access to the forest, especially for winter motorized recreation, said forest supervisor Bob Castaneda.

Castaneda unveiled changes to the initially proposed forest management plan in mid-October changing about 89,000 acres previously designed for wilderness to a designation called "wild lands" instead and opened up more of the KNF to snowmobile use.

Environmentalists were upset that Castaneda wiped out all acreage deemed acceptable for eventual wilderness designation by the U.S. Congress.

The "wild lands" acreages would still carry many of the restrictions of wilderness designation and would be intact if they were included for such designation in a bill before congress, he said.

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, including some areas that have been used by the winter recreationists.

He said the collaborative groups found topics to agree on, but rarely did so when discussing proposed wilderness.

Maps showing the new management areas are available at the supervisor's office. Castaneda said there will be more opportunity to shape the plan, which will guide forest management for the next 15 years. A 90-day comment period on the draft plan will begin in February 2006.

The Senate field hearing on Friday is soliciting public comment on the forest planning process, and Burns encourages all interested parties to attend.

Entitled "Challenges and Opportunities in Region One Forest Planning," the hearing will be held on the campus of Montana College of Technology at 10:30 a.m. in the Health and Business Building Room 01, 909 South Avenue West in Missoula.

Burns has invited Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth to offer both his expertise and testimony.

To reserve space on the Libby-Lincoln County sponsored bus to Missoula, call Libby City Hall at 293-2731.