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KNF timber sales put on temporary hold

| October 5, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Two timber sales on the Kootenai National Forest have been put on temporary hold by U.S. Forest Service reviewing officers after appeals by a Missoula environmental group.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed appeals of both the Northeast Yaak and Green Mountain sales. Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda said he anticipates the agency's decision to rework Environmental Impact Statements for the two sales will take a couple of months.

Castaneda said the way the Forest Service disclosed the effects on wildlife habitat for the Green Mountain sale was not adequate.

"We have to do a better job explaining why an effect is harmful or not harmful," he said. "It is just not adequate to say it will have an effect. We need to do a better job describing cumulative effects."

As for the Northeast Yaak sale, Castaneda said he wasn't as sure what the agency's reviewing officer found that needed to be changed.

He said appeals of timber sales are sent to the Missoula Forest Service office where a panel of people who are knowledgeable about environmental analysis is put together. They review the appeal and all the documents the Forest Service used to make its decision.

Then the panel briefs an administrative reviewing officer, who will consider all the findings from that team and make a recommendation about what to do with the appeal.

The Northeast Yaak decision was issued Sept. 26, following the Green Mountain decision on Sept. 12. Castaneda said a conference call among Forest Service officials is scheduled this week, and that he would know more about the Northeast Yaak situation after that.

Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council said that group has long maintained scrutiny over Kootenai National Forest timber sales, particularly those in the Three Rivers Ranger District where the Northeast Yaak sale is located. She applauded the Forest Service's recent decisions to take another look at both sales.

"This is a good example of how the appeals process is supposed to work," King said. "There were concerns about the grizzly bear core habitat and the manipulation of that. That's what we brought up in our comment letters."

She emphasized that the forest council was pleased with some aspects of the Northeast Yaak sale, saying the group was "pleased to see the planning team's direction."

For example, she said they added units to be considered as replacement old growth, a move that boosted the percentage of old growth from 11.9 percent to 14 percent, she said.

"We had concerns about a new road alignment through some old growth habitat and they chose to drop that piece," King added. "We always want to take a cautionary stand with plans to do any management in old growth."

King added that opening new roads in grizzly habitat is a concern for the forest council.

"Our grizzly bear population is going extinct, and the Cabinet-Yaak population is threatened," she said.

King noted that the Northeast Yaak sale is located on a sub-unit of land that is slightly less than 90,000 square acres, although not all of that area is slated for harvesting.

"This is relatively small compared to what we've seen come off this forest," King said.

Castaneda takes a philosophical approach to delays. He said appeals from a handful of groups such as the Alliance for the Wild Rockies is the rule rather than the exception.

"We always get our projects appealed," he said. "It is standard for us."