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Coalition finds consensus on forest issues

| January 17, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

A local group representing a diverse range of interests is proposing a new approach to forest management that would provide for wilderness protection, jobs in the timber industry and designated motorized recreation areas.

Members of the Lincoln County Coalition briefed the county commissioners last week on their proposal, which centers on draft legislation they hope to see passed by Congress. The coalition's executive committee includes Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Donna O'Neil of the Lincoln County Sno-Kats, Joel Chandler of the Kootenai Ridge Riders all-terrain vehicle club, outfitter Tim Linehan, accountant and timber industry advocate Wayne Hirst, and Lincoln County Commissioner John Konzen.

The group has been working together for the past two years to find solutions that are unifying instead of polarizing, King said. The proposed legislation would set aside an experimental area on the Kootenai National Forest's Three Rivers Ranger District that would be managed in a way that would protect "special places" while providing for timber harvest and stewardship forestry and ensure access for both motorized and non-motorized recreation, she said.

"All three parts of this move together, or nothing moves forward," King said.

Hirst said he came to the conclusion that a new approach was needed when he realized that after 30 years of fighting over forest issues, most of the mills in the area have disappeared along with jobs in the woods.

"The absolute worst thing we could have imagined 15 or 20 years ago has occurred," he said. "How could it be any worse?"

O'Neil said she took part in the development of the new forest plan for the KNF but became frustrated with that process.

"You could put in your input, but you really couldn't control what the outcome was going to be," she said.

The coalition's proposal would safeguard motorized recreation areas for future generations, O'Neil said.

"This is going to do it if we can get it through," she said. "If we don't protect these areas, they won't be able to be used."

The coalition is providing an opportunity "to take matters into our own hands," Chandler said.

"We're going to have to do this," he said. "Our federal government doesn't seem to be able to get it right."

Chandler said he's been surprised at how much the members of the coalition have been able to agree on.

Linehan noted that as an outfitter, he benefits from both motorized recreation and wilderness.

"The most exciting thing for me personally at this point is it appears very doable," he said.

Forest Service regional director Gail Kimbell - recently selected to be the new chief of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. - "visibly lit up" when presented with the proposal, Linehan said.

The coalition is finishing work on its draft legislation and hopes to have the proposal ready for public review within the next few months, King said.