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Lincoln County Coalition a small experiment in common ground

| February 20, 2007 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

Bridge-building. Local solutions. Creativity. These are the words being used to describe the efforts of the Lincoln County Coalition's continued work toward a better future for our home.

The group is an ever-expanding mix of loggers, millowners, heavy-equipment operators, elected officials, economic development personnel, educators, hunting and fishing guides, local conservationists and others. We share an interest in coming up with a positive common-ground proposal for the direction of the Kootenai National Forest, particularly right now the Three Rivers District.

Participants in the coalition understand that beneath the surface we all share more in common than our differences. We may sometimes disagree, but we are all neighbors.

These kinds of discussions are not altogether new to Lincoln County; there is a long tradition of seeking healthier economies as well as healthier forests.

Our coalition - made up of any number of the most independent-minded Lincoln County folks as one could ever hope to find - is currently conducting an economic analysis to gauge how many jobs our small proposal might yield, as well as how it might aid in preserving the jobs we do have. Our proposal is a work in progress.

But we encourage anyone who truly supports this concept of mapping common ground to get involved, and to offer your support. A criticism has arisen from a couple of people that this concept is all driven by the labor of one group, with the other supporters existing as "mere signatories."

One criticism has been that one of the groups involved in the coalition, the Yaak Valley Forest Council, paid for a couple of ads to run in the Libby and Kalispell papers.

The Yaak Valley Forest Council was happy to make this contribution and investment in our communities. That's all. No secret agenda, no greedy politics. Quite the contrary: a ton of volunteer hours, seeking to weave a solution out of common threads: jobs, recreation, timber, wilderness, and access. In order to move forward with all interests engaged, we all agree and understand that all parts of this proposal are interconnected and that no one part moves without the other.

It's not a novel idea, but we think our success this time will come from our small-scale experiment. We know that our proposal will encounter a few of the same old tired ideological arguments, when the substance and concept can't be attacked.

But that is the old way of doing business. Our wildly disparate coalition works on the assumption that Lincoln County is over all that now. There will be remnants of fear and conspiracies about "foxes in henhouses" and "camels under tents," rather than of solutions. As if there's something to be gained by re-fighting old battles.

One coalition member, Libby's Wayne Hirst, put his position more directly. "Thirty years of fighting hasn't gotten us anything. It's time to try something different."

Jobs, recreation, protecting special places, and preserving traditional community access, are what our proposed bill is all about. It's a very small experiment in common ground, and a very small attempt-and not the first-at ending the troubling polarization that has so hindered our region. If you are interested in finding out more, please visit us at www.LincolnCountyCoalition.com, and become involved. We hope you'll give it a listen, and give it a chance.

Coalition Representatives:

Wayne Hirst

Business, Libby/Troy

Joel Chandler

Kootenai Ridge Riders

Donna O'Neil

Lincoln County Sno-Kats

Jerry Wandler

Troy Snowmobile Club

Robyn King

Yaak Valley Forest Council

Bruce Vincent

Communities for a Great Northwest

Chas Vincent

State Representative,

Gary Blaz

Education, Eureka

John Konzen

County Commissioner