Sunday, June 13, 2021

Second Knotty Pine project meeting held to dispel rumors, misinformation

The Western News | May 11, 2021 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials held a public meeting last week in hopes of dispelling persistent misinformation surrounding a proposed forestry project.

The May 6 gathering, held outdoors at Three Rivers Ranger District station, was the second meeting officials organized to address concerns about the Knotty Pine Project. The first, which took place last month at the McCormick schoolyard, was called off early after a small group of vocal residents repeatedly talked over presenters.

In his time with the Forest Service, Chad Benson, Kootenai National Forest supervisor, said he’s seen “very few” meetings canceled because of public disorder. He said the chaos was spurred primarily by misinformation circulating on social media. Among spreading other unfounded rumors, opponents claimed that the Forest Service was planning to install an RV park and clear-cut 7,000 acres.

“We don’t even know where some of this stuff comes from,” Benson told Lincoln County Commissioners during a May 5 meeting. “It’s almost to the point of insanity for us.”

Following the initial public meeting, Lisa Osborn, project manager for the Knotty Pine Project, said residents concerned about the construction of an RV park seemed to have misunderstood plans to establish a recreational area near Yaak Falls.

While the project’s environmental assessment states the proposed campsite may accommodate up to 150 people — rather than 150 recreational vehicles — Osborn doubted that the area would ever hit that ceiling. Officials designed the site as a gated campground that recreationists could rent overnight. Only one party will be allowed to use the area at once.

The environmental assessment makes provisions for RV spots but Osborn said the area was unlikely to include more than a couple hookups. She noted that Forest Service officials needed to secure additional funding to construct the recreation area so there was a possibility that the campground might not get built.

To prevent another squabble from breaking out during their second meeting, officials organized the May 6 gathering as an open house event. Residents with concerns could visit a series of outdoor booths to learn more about Knotty Pine. A slideshow presentation, which provided an overview of the project, was queued up inside one of the buildings at the station.

Marni Malet, a resident of Pine Creek Road, attended the open-air meeting hoping to learn more about the proposed recreation area. While the rumors of an RV park had her worried, she said she felt much better about the plans after speaking with Forest Service officials.

Malet said she attended the first meeting on the project but wasn’t able to get the information she needed before officials called it off.

“[The Forest Service] has done an excellent job,” she said of the May 6 meeting. “They could have had cookies, though.”

Cory Farmer of the Forest Service said the attendees he had spoken with during the May meeting had acted respectfully.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” he said. “We want to get the information out.”

Nicole Macy, who spoke with residents on the silviculture component of the project, said the open meeting format made it harder for one or two belligerent attendees to dominate the conversation. While some concerned residents had brought up the rumor that Knotty Pine included a proposal to clear-cut 7,000 acres, Macy said they had not been aggressive. Talking one-on-one with residents, she said, made it easier for her to relate to people on a personal level.

“I live here with my family,” she said. “I also don’t want to see 7,000 acres clear-cut.”

As part of the Knotty Pine Project, Forest Service officials have proposed commercial harvest on 2,791 acres, fuel treatment on 4,757 acres, pre-commercial thinning on 2,009 acres. Proposals include the addition of 4.17 miles of road, 1.2 miles of temporary road construction, 35 miles of road maintenance and 4.04 miles of road storage. The Forest Service would perform harvest treatment in 75 acres of old growth and burning in 41 acres in old growth. A set of 24 proposed harvest units would create 14 openings exceeding 40 acres in size.

The public comment period on the project’s environmental assessment ended May 7.