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Diverse group meets on Kootenai WUIs

| February 28, 2006 11:00 PM

By ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

Representatives from 10 different regional environmental groups met in Libby Friday with local businessman, loggers and politicians to find possible common ground on fuel reduction logging in the wildland urban interface.

The meeting lasted three and half hours and was held in a classroom at the Lincoln County Campus of Flathead Valley Community College.

Another meeting is in the planning with subcommittees reporting back with an organization structure with guidelines for proceeding, and to discover what wildland urban interface (WUI) projects the Forest Service is considering within the Kootenai National Forest.

The idea for the meeting was based on a successful coalition working in Northeast Washington involving diverse groups of people.

Spokane resident Mike Peterson of the Land Council said there was plenty of conflict and mistrust between various factions in northeast Washington for years.

"At the same time, we saw threats to our communities from wildfire," he said.

Peterson said people coming together on such coalitions have to embrace each other's interests.

"It takes time, a couple of years," Peterson said. "Everybody is not going to leave here and say, "God, I love wilderness" or "God, I really want to log."

Peterson said the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition picked some projects everybody could agreement on - wildland urban interface projects to start.

"From our experience you have to include interests of people who are not in this room," Peterson said. "I don't see any tribal people here."

Issues of old growth, salvage logging and roadless areas were avoided because they are too controversial, Peterson said.

Josh Anderson from the Vaagen Brothers mill in Colville, Wash., said he couldn't wait years for the project to come together. He needed 100 loads of timber day to keep the mill operating.

He called the coalition experience rewarding.

"Keeping it open and always reaching

out is very important," he said. "You will get meeting-ed to death and working with the Forest Service has been the biggest challenge. The Forest Service, intentionally or not, tried to drive a spike in our trust."

Tim Coleman of Republic, Wash., and a member of the coalition, said they were looking at logging projects that were stalled for a long time and then reached agreement on projects in a matter of hours.

"I go by the Vaagen Brothers mill and say 'Why aren't there more logs there?' I see logging trucks drive by and want to know why they aren't stopping there (at the mill)."

He said it was important to start the process of coalition building projects with a mission of common vision to lose the conflict atmosphere.

"Good communication is important, especially on the little things," Coleman said.

When the Stimson Mill closed in Libby just over three years ago, groups trying to revive the economy agreed that "something had to change," said Lincoln County Commissioner John Konzen.

"Everything we turned to got nixed," Konzen said. "We tried to put in a ski area, it got nixed. We tried to put in a trail between Libby and Troy and that got nixed."

Konzen said the county dodged a bullet during the fire seasons of 2002 and 2003. Wind events would have created catastrophic fires.

"There's a lot of the same values sitting in here so I know we can work together," he said. "We've created an industry that sues at any moment and it's not healthy."

Ed Levert, a retired forester who developed the county fire plan, explained his mapping of the WUIs with a about a two-mile border around known structures. He said to miles was used to consider both if there is a need or no need for action.

Matthew Koehler of the Forest Network Coalition, said on the projects his group has worked on in the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests, quarter-mile perimeters were established because beyond that it caused more and more controversy with different individuals and groups.

"The fire plan identifies priorities, primarily working with private citizens," Levert said. "If we could prioritize these areas in the county, define where they are," he continued. "East of prevailing winds should be the priority. We can look at the best prescriptions, we can be specific."

Also, Levert noted that he was uncomfortable talking about the Forest Service without any agency people in the room.

"In some places, community protection is more important than the ecological concerns," said Bob Clark of the Sierra Club.

"We thought a county commissioners we were doing it right, Konzen said. "We need to look at the fire plan and see if two miles is enough or three miles is needed or just a quarter mile. We have naysayers on both sides of this. Can we do something?"

The suggestion was made that since it was the first meeting of the group, people were not committed to one another.

"We do need to go slow," said Jake Kreilick of Natural Forest Protection Alliance. "We're still feeling ourselves out here."

He agreed that a WUI that extends too deep around structures gets more contentious.

The two committees agreed to work on organizational structure and contacting the Forest Service about existing or proposed projects in WUIs.

The next meeting date was set tentatively for the first week in April.

Participating in the meeting last Friday were Ardel Fuller of the Industrial board; Paul Rumelhart, director of the Kootenai River Economic Development; Marianne Roose, county commissioner from Eureka; Jim Mayo, Port Authority board; Rita Windom, county commissioner; Scott Jaqueth, local resident; Fred Sturgess, retired mill worker; Bob Clark, Sierra Club; Paul Tisher of TBC Timber Inc; Kurt Raycin of Raycin Logging; Charlie Croucher, supervisor at the Stimson fingerjoint plant; Wayne Hirst, CPA Jackson Garrison, side manager for the industrial board; Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council; and Tim Coleman of the Northeast Washington Conservation Coalition.

Kari Musgrave, Sierra Club intern; Eileen Carney, candidate for the state House of Representatives; Jake Kreilick, Natural Forest Protection Alliance; Josh Anderson, Vaagen Brothers mill; Mike Peterson, Land Council; Liz Sedler, Alliance for the Wild Rockies; Cesar Hernandez of the Montana Wilderness Association and the Cabinet Resource Group; Larry Coryall, representing Troy; Ed Levert, county fire planning coordinator; John Konzen, county commissioner from Eureka; Greg Larson, retired director of the Northwest Conservation and Resource Council; Jeff Gruber, Libby High School teacher; Matthew Koehler, Forest Network Coalition; and Jeff Juel, Ecology Center.

Steve Garrett, Troy businessman; Ron Downey, former Forest Service and county employee; Rick Bass, Yaak resident and member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council; Noel Williams, former county commissioners from Eureka; Tracy McIntyre, director of the Eureka Rural Development Partners; Keith Haggerty, owner of the Yaak Mercantile and Tavern; Linda Stehlik, Yaak resident; Dario Scarbosio, Yaak resident; Charles Clark, Troy resident and CRG member.

The meeting was facilitated by Sandy Matheny.