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Misinformation fueled showdown at informational meeting for Knotty Pine project

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | April 27, 2021 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials had to shut down a public meeting on a forestry project last week after it devolved into a shouting match.

Lisa Osborn, project leader for the Knotty Pine Project, said the April 19 session was meant to clear up misinformation regarding the proposal. But the outdoor gathering at the McCormick schoolyard quickly turned into one of the most heated meetings she had attended in her career.

Nearly as soon as Troy District Ranger Kirsten Kaiser began to speak on the project, the crowd started interjecting. Osborn said she and other Forest Service officials urged residents to hold their questions until the end of the presentation.

After Kaiser was interrupted for the fourth time, officials shut the meeting down. Osborn said she and other officials stuck around until 7 p.m., half an hour longer than they had scheduled, to answer questions. Following the meeting, the Forest Service extended the public comment period for the Knotty Pine Environmental Assessment until May 7.

One of the primary points of contention, according to Osborn, was a recreational area near Yaak Falls. After residents heard that the site would have a capacity of 150 people, many seemed to assume that the site would become a large gathering place.

Osborn said Forest Service officials had settled on 150 as an estimate of the maximum capacity of the site. She highly doubted that too many people would use the site at once. Officials intend the area to be a gated overnight campground recreationists could rent. Osborn said only one party would be able to use the site at a time. The site would become the first overnight group campground in the Troy District, according to Osborn.

The amenities for the group site are up in the air as Forest Service officials are still looking for funding streams for the project. Parking for recreational vehicles, a pavilion structure, vault toilets, grills, fire pits and other camping facilities are included in the environmental assessment. Osborn said the site was unlikely to include more than a couple RV spots.

In an April 21 release circulated on social media, Forest Service officials attempted to address more misinformation about the project circulating in the community. While Knotty Pine does include biocontrol and herbicide application for noxious weeds, it doesn't include aerial spraying. The project will not cover management on private land, contrary to rumors.

Forest Service officials proposed commercial harvest on 2,791 acres, fuel treatment for forest fires on 4,757 acres, pre-commercial thinning on 2,009 acres, according to the environmental assessment. Knotty Pine would include the addition of 4.17 miles of an undetermined road to the road system, 1.2 miles of temporary road construction, 35 miles of road maintenance, 4.04 miles of road storage, 75 acres of harvest treatment in old growth, 41 acres of burning in old growth and 24 harvest units that create 14 openings exceeding 40 acres in size.