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Commissioners conditionally back coalition

| January 25, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

The Lincoln County commissioners are moving toward conditional support of proposed legislation aimed at creating an experimental management area on the Kootenai National Forest that would provide for wilderness protection and motorized recreation along with jobs in the timber industry.

The commissioners were briefed two weeks ago on legislation drafted by the Lincoln County Coalition, which represents a range of interests ranging from wilderness advocates to snowmobilers to wood products industry proponents. On Wednesday, the commissioners discussed a request from the coalition to offer formal support for the proposal.

Commissioner John Konzen, who is a member of the coalition's executive committee, moved that the commissioners "support the concept that the coalition is working on."

"Nothing is concrete," said Commissioner Marianne Roose, who is also a member of the coalition. "It is a draft. It is a way of starting discussion and getting people involved."

The proposed legislation would set aside an area on the Three Rivers Ranger District for management to protect agreed upon wild places while providing for timber harvest and stewardship

forestry in other areas. The proposal would also ensure access for both motorized and non-motorized recreation.

Job creation is an important component, Konzen said.

"If jobs aren't created, and there isn't any guarantee of the length of those jobs, those other parts won't move," he said.

Commissioner Rita Windom said she supported the concept in its early stages, but she understood then that the coalition would not be advocating new wilderness areas.

"That concept has changed, wouldn't you say?" she said.

Konzen said the original concept may not have mentioned wilderness, but it did include "wildland protection."

"You're playing word games," he said. "Instead of logging, it's 'vegetation management.'"

Windom also expressed concerns about the makeup of the coalition.

"It's a very limited scope of people who have been working on this," she said. "Where are the mayors, where are the city council members, where are the other constituents that we have?"

Windom said she wants to see a final proposal before giving her unqualified support.

Roose stressed that the draft is subject to change and suggested that the commissioners' support would help start the discussion process.

"My intent is to tell people, 'You're working in the right direction,'" Konzen said.

Windom said she would support the proposal with the qualification that the public must be given an opportunity to provide input on the draft legislation before it goes to Congress.

Konzen agreed to draw up a new motion that addresses Windom's concerns. The commissioners will consider the new motion next week.

"I think they're open to anything," he said. "I think they just want to get people informed as to what is going on, because they're being accused of back-door skullduggery, and they're not at all."