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Court ruling could delay forest plan

| April 6, 2007 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

Release of a final version of a new forest plan for the Kootenai National Forest could be delayed by a recent court decision that went against the Forest Service on several issues regarding its 2005 planning rule.

The suit was brought by conservation groups and the state of California. A federal district court judge issued a 60-page ruling on March 30 that is being analyzed by the Forest Service officials at the regional and national level, KNF Supervisor Paul Bradford told the Lincoln County commissioners Wednesday.

Bradford called the decision "a significant roadblock" to the agency's implementation of the 2005 rule, which was intended to simplify the planning process and streamline appeals.

"It looks like it's a fairly big fix that we will be involved with," Bradford said.

The judge found in favor of the Forest Service on some issues but against the agency on others, Bradford told the commissioners. All the ramifications with regard to efforts to finalize the current plan aren't yet known, he said.

"We're encouraged not to speculate, and that's where I should probably just button up," he said.

The KNF and Idaho Panhandle National Forest recently completed analysis of public comments received on their proposed plans, and forest officials had hoped to have final versions ready for release by mid-summer.

During the 120-day comment period, the two forests received more than 500 unique and substantially different comment letters as well as 17 form letters and three petitions. Public comments have been summarized into public concern statements, which can be found in the Analysis of Public Comments report available online at www.fs.fed.us/kipz.