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Does forest plan offer a balanced perspective?

| May 12, 2006 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

The Kootenai National Forest is expected to release its long-promised forest plan this week, but Montanans in the remote northwest corner of the state are anxiously awaiting the answer to one question: Will it offer a balanced perspective on land management? Will the plan balance the interests of all users, and protect the long-term vitality of the forest?

Will the plan make a commitment to the wildest and most pristine parts of the forest by recommending those areas for Wilderness status?

Citizens participating

Over the past three years the Kootenai National Forest has solicited the concerns of citizens locally, regionally and nationally, and has urged the public to be actively involved in its Forest Plan Revision. The public addressed a variety of issues such as clean water, quiet trails, wilderness designation, timber harvest, fish and wildlife management, fire protection, motorized use and the future of roadless areas.

The public responded to the Forest Service's request for "input" with gusto, and turned out in numbers for meetings in towns all over northwest Montana. At the meetings many residents expressed their belief that the special wild characteristics of the forest should be protected by designating deserving areas as Wilderness. Conservation groups involved in the Forest Plan Revision process are now watching closely to learn if the public's desire for wilderness will be reflected in the plan, and to see if conservationists' concerns will be balanced with the concerns of other citizen groups.

The news is coming out

The results of the public's efforts will be made known when the Draft Proposal of the Forest Plan is released for its 90-day public comment period this week. Will the plan reflect the desires of the citizens who participated in the numerous meetings and discussions, a group as diverse as the mountains, forests, and rivers of the Kootenai themselves?

Conservationists and lovers of traditional, non-motorized uses of the forest have reason to be worried by the Forest Service's announcement in October 2005 that all recommended wilderness would be removed from the Draft Forest Plan and replaced by an indefinite category called "wildlands." The question now is: Will the Forest Service respond to the people's wishes?

While the significance in the change of wording is unclear, conservation groups point out that wilderness designation is long overdue on the Kootenai. "The Kootenai has built more roads and protected less wilderness than any national forest in Montana," states John Gatchell of the Montana Wilderness Association.

The wild spirit of the Kootenai

Here in Kootenai Country, we're all grateful for our land defined by snow-capped peaks, forested hillsides sheltering trophy elk, and cold rivers filled with native trout. Our landscape boasts an incredible diversity of plant and animal species, inhabiting Montana's only pocket of temperate rain forest. Encounters with grizzly bear, lynx and other rare species still occur here in the spectacular Cabinets and the neighboring Scotchman Peaks. In the northern reaches of the Yaak and Tobacco Valley, threatened species cross the border to mingle with Canadian populations in adjacent pristine valleys. We live here because of the wildness of the Kootenai spirit.

How closely is that spirit reflected in the Forest Service's management of public lands in the Kootenai National Forest? Not closely enough, local conservation groups say. Conservationists contend that the wild Kootenai has been long treated as the region's sacrifice forest with over 8,000 miles of roads, most of which do not have adequate funding to maintain.

Previous management actions created an imbalance and led economic instability in local communities, sedimentation and degradation of wild trout habitat and other endangered species. What can we do to pass the wild spirit of the Kootenai on to the children we raise here?

We need to restore balance to our forests.

Robyn King, executive director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, one of the conservation groups actively involved in the Forest Plan Revision process since it began in 2003, looks to the proposed plan for "…a plan that will restore the balance between sustainable harvest on the Kootenai and other values, including wilderness. We look to leadership within the agency to guide us there."

Balance between economics, wilderness, recreation and wildlife: the wild Kootenai has space for all of this and more.

Land sufficient to meet

a variety of needs

With 2.2 million acres under its jurisdiction, there is sufficient land in the Kootenai to meet a variety of citizen needs: enough land to support restoration forestry and timber harvest, while designating areas for recommended wilderness. An increasing number of residents believe there is room in the Kootenai to accommodate a variety of interests. People on the Kootenai are sharing ideas and listening to each other as never before.

Though the Kootenai National Forest is home to one small wilderness area, the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness area designated by Congress in 1964, it has yet to establish any other wilderness areas since that time. The Kootenai is unique in Montana and in the nation, filled with tracts of land rich in biodiversity that offer matchless wildlife habitat and abundant opportunity for solitude. These roadless areas best preserve the wildness embraced by residents of the Kootenai and serve as the last hope for a declining grizzly population of the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem. Such rich, vibrant forestlands and wild mountains deserve to be protected - for ourselves, and for generations in Montana yet to come.

Robyn King

Yaak Valley Forest Council

Cesar Hernandez

Montana Wilderness Association

Bill Martin

Cabinet Resource Group

Phil Hough

Friends of Scotchman Peaks

Fascists deny transportation or creation of system

To the Editor:

While Yvonne and me were standing at the Yaak Road and U.S. 2 on May 3, at 9:30 a.m. hoping for a ride to Libby with our Libby sign, we witnessed the most callous and fascist spectacle we have ever seen. Going slowly by us on U.S. 2 were several Lincoln County police and Search and Rescue escorting disabled bicycle riders. Their lights were flashing, meanwhile, two disabled, very low-income, elderly people were totally ignored and offered no senior transportation at all.

If it wasn't for a nice young man out of the Yaak, we probably would not have made it to Libby. We were going to Libby to pay our property taxes, distributing the People's Weekly World and get our food, drinking water and medicines plus pay our bills. It so happens that we paid for our senior transportation when we paid our property taxes.

We had been out on the highway for an hour and very tired. When we got to Libby it so happened that our Lincoln County Commissioners were having one of their secret meetings when me and Yvonne got to the Lincoln County Courthouse to distribute our paper free to the people as volunteer work for the people.

When we entered the meeting we asked for senior transportation and public buses for the people and told them what happened at the Yaak Road and U.S. 2.

All we received was total silence and a dead pan stare of fascist hatred for me and Yvonne. Then we heard someone say the county police aren't a taxi.

What an inconsiderate and callous attitude these fascists have toward the people. By the way, me and Yvonne were the only people at this meeting sitting in the chairs for the public.

It doesn't matter to our county commissioners that gasoline is over $3 a gallon and that the working poor can hardly drive to work and back. Or the people on very low Social Security income can hardly afford the drive to town and back. Or that our county police take people's transportation away night and day but can't help me and Yvonne with our senior transportation.

Mass public transit everywhere for all.

Daniel Gawain Waters

Troy