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Castaneda reminisces, looks ahead during final days at USFS

| June 2, 2006 12:00 AM

By ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Bob Castaneda packed his personal belongings into boxes last week, reminiscing about 36 years with the Forest Service.

Castaneda retired last week after spending the last six years as KNF supervisor. The Forest Service has been his only job since graduating from the forestry school at Northern Arizona University.

He sees several challenges facing the Forest Service locally.

"They need to get groups to work together, to understand each other's views," Castaneda said. "It could lead to real positive ways they can work with the Forest Service."

He said such approaches need solutions that result in "something for everyone to latch onto."

The other challenge facing, not only Lincoln County but much of western Montana, is heavy dependence on one employer — either a timber mill or mine.

Castaneda emphasizes diversification of the economy, including recreation.

However, he believes the Libby area could again see a mill operation but on a smaller scale. He said the area will never see the scale of logging that existed up until the early 1990s.

"Timber activities should be very consistent and very predictable," he said. "I would like to see a small timber facility business here."

Castaneda said the area needs the skills and the infrastructure.

"Loggers here are very innovative," he continued. "They have changed their equipment and the way they do things. We don't want to lose that experience and skill level."

People in the Kootenai National Forest have faced enormous changes and adjustments. "I think a lot of people understand that," he said.

In general, the Forest Service is facing some problems nationwide in delivering services because of recent efforts to centralize services.

"The public service we need to provide here is different," Castaneda said. "The Kootenai is different from other Montana National Forests in that our communities are so dependant on public lands."

He believes the agency has to work on delivery of services to the public in the face of centralization of budgeting, grants and permits and other things.

"We could do all that locally," he said. "It will take time to show that. I have no doubt it will save money but are we going to trade efficiency for public contact?"

Since he started working with the Forest Service in 1970 in what was the Kanisku National Forest in the Idaho Panhandle, Castaneda has watched enormous changes.

"When I started we were known as the multi-use agency dealing with ranching, farming, mining and timber.

He said the 1970s saw numerous changes with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Protection Act and others, as well as the growth the environmental movement and recreation industry in the national forests.

Castaneda worked in Idaho and Montana national forests throughout the '70s before going to a southern Oregon ranger district in 1980 as a timber management assistant in the Fremont National Forest. He was promoted to a district ranger position on Nez Perce National Forest in 1984 followed by a second ranger job on the Rogue River National Forest in Oregon.

In 1986, he was promoted to deputy forest supervisor on the Custer National Forest in eastern Montana. In 1991 he was named supervisor of the Winema National Forest in Klamath Falls, Ore. Seven years later he moved to Libby.

Castaneda and his wife, Susan, plan to remain in Libby. He said it meets his retirement and recreation goals.