Feds hope to secure $8 million for Kootenai National Forest

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | September 11, 2020 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials hope to receive up to $8 million in federal funding for projects within the Kootenai National Forest.

Chad Benson, forest supervisor, told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 2 that he was able to request the funds thanks to the newly enacted Great American Outdoors Act.

Signed into law by President Donald Trump on Aug. 4, the act earmarks nearly $3 billion annually to conservation efforts, outdoor recreation and the maintenance of national parks and public lands. The act permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year and will set aside up to $1.9 billion annually for maintenance projects on federal lands for the next five years.

Benson said the funding he requested was broken down into $5.5 million for roadwork and $2.5 million in recreational deferred maintenance. The total $8 million figure was optimistic, according to Benson, as the forest has to compete on both the regional and national levels for the money.

Benson said he has tentatively earmarked around $750,000* to renovate the Ross Creek Cedars scenic area. Most of the work will be concentrated in the parking lot, which sees the most use, according to Benson. He said he also plans to put up more signage in the area to keep recreationists from getting lost near the grove.

During the meeting, Benson told commissioners that he had received a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on an access amendment in the Kootenai National Forest. According to Benson, this evaluation will allow a set of Forest Service projects, including the Ripley and Purple Martin Projects, to move ahead.

The Ripley Project, according to the Kootenai National Forest website, is located east of Libby and U.S. Highway 2 and includes Swede Mountain and a portion of the Farm to Market corridor. The project will focus on forest health issues including insects, disease and hazardous fuel reduction. Restoration activities, including road management, watershed improvements and noxious weed treatments, will also be included in the project.

The Purple Martin Project, which is located seven miles northwest of Trout Creek, will focus on increasing resilience to insects and wildfire. Forest officials are planning to expand campgrounds and change trail access to create a safe and sustainable trail system in the area.

Benson said these projects will help advance the goal of harvesting 80 million board feet in Kootenai National Forest next year.

*Due to a software error, an incorrect figure was originally published online.