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Group protects ski area option

| September 12, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Treasure Mountain's management designation should be changed from recommended wilderness to non-motorized backcountry, according to a citizens group studying the starting option for Kootenai National Forest's management plan update.

The collaborate group looking at possible changes within the Libby geographic area spent plenty of time discussing Treasure Mountain with forest supervisor Bob Castaneda on Thursday, Sept. 1. During a vote, 11 people said they wanted non-motorized backcountry designation while eight favored "primary recreation."

Six people preferred motorized use in winter only, five wanted motorized year-round, and four preferred leaving the designation as recommended wilderness.

"Finding consensus, I'm finding out, is almost impossible," Castaneda said.

However, he said the discussion and voting on Treasure Mountain had been helpful as he considers potential changes in the starting option. The plan, last updated in 1987, will guide management of the Kootenai for the next 15 years.

"This is a good indication of a collaborative approach," Castaneda said.

Most people at the meeting wanted to keep chances alive for ski development on the mountain. They argued that the current designation does not allow road building, which would block investor interest in ski resort development.

The 11 people who voted for non-motorized backcountry designation of the area said exceptions should be made for any economic feasibility study an investor might want to conduct.

Castaneda noted that more than a feasibility study is needed for a green light to ski development. An Environmental Impact Statement by the U.S. Forest Service also would have to be completed.

"It may be economically feasible," he said, "but the second question is 'should we do it?'"

Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom said President Clinton's roadless rule halted the EIS process on Treasure Mountain. She urged a change in designation that would give a chance for a possible ski resort.

Windom emphasized that point with a Sept. 6 letter to Castaneda in which she requested a "primary recreation site" designation for Treasure Mountain.

"This area is close to the community of Libby and has attributes that, if developed for recreation, could enhance recreational opportunities for local residents and could bring a long term economic boost to our area," she wrote.

"Whether the ski hill and associated recreation would be viable at this time is unknown. However, unless given the chance to pursue the concept under a primary recreation designation, the window of opportunity is forever gone once the wilderness designation is applied."

The citizens group also discussed which designation is appropriate for the area proposed for Montanore Mine development southwest of Libby. Bill Martin said there is a heavy level of grizzly bear denning in the area, and suggested changing the classification from motorized year-round backcountry to non-motorized.

Castaneda said federal mining laws require "reasonable access" to private land claimed for mining. The purpose of an Environmental Impact Statement, he said, is to find how that access could occur and what mitigation would be needed.

That might include closing some roads, as has been required for the Rock Creek Mine on the west side of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, he said.

He urged the citizens group to forget about the proposed mine while considering the best designation for land management.

"Separate the mine from the discussion of the forest plan," he said.

"We'll deal with mitigation for the mine when we get there," Libby District Ranger Malcolm Edwards added.

A vote showed most people favored keeping Treasure Mountain's motorized designation.