Objections filed against Idaho, Mont. forest plans

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Hundreds of pages of objections by 60 individuals or organizations have been filed against a U.S. Forest Service draft management plan concerning two national forests with borders stretching into northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.

The Missoulian reports in a story on Sunday that the objections concerning plans for the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle national forests went in ahead of the Nov. 26 deadline.

The new draft updates the existing 1987 forest plan. The Forest Service is using a new process that, instead of appeals, allows the filing of objections. The agency received 38 objections concerning the plan for the Kootenai National Forest, and 22 for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

"The new process allows the public a greater view of the wide variety of perspectives we're trying to balance," said Idaho Panhandle spokesman Jason Kirchner. "In 1987, this was mostly a timber-focused production plan. We've learned quite a bit about forest management since then. The new plan focuses on ecosystem management, in trying to balance various uses, impacts and needs of the forests."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has 90 days from Nov. 26 to decide to accept or reject the objections or meet with those making objections to try to find a solution.

"We believe this is the best possible balance," Kirchner said. "If someone's still not satisfied when the Department of Agriculture issues its final decision, the only option is to file a lawsuit. But rather than filing an appeal and going into a black hole in our office, this allows objectors and our office to all be in the same room and work things out."

The objections varied from complaints the plan didn't protect enough of the forests to complaints the plan went too far by protecting too much.

The plan for the Kootenai National Forest recommends 105,300 acres of wilderness. Officials are recommending 161,000 acres of wilderness in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

State Sen. Jennifer Fielder, a Republican from Thompson Falls, Mont., objected to the amount of wilderness.

She said the Forest Service should stop "all activities which further diminish public access, multiple use, the ability to reduce risk of catastrophic pests, wildfire, drought and prohibition of economic productivity in areas where sustained yield and viable production are physically possible - until and unless the necessity to diminish these beneficial activities is proven absolutely necessary."

John Gatchell, writing for the Montana Wilderness Association, the Wilderness Society and Headwaters Montana, objected to the plan's removal of the 26,000-acre Ten Lakes region from recommended wilderness.

"The draft record of decision relies on a cookbook wilderness assessment, lacking site specific information and analysis necessary to make informed decisions in the planning process," he wrote.

Members of the Montana Mountain Bike Alliance Board objected to a Wild River Designation on the Upper St. Joe River, which would eliminate access to a popular bicycling trail.

But Keven Colburn, national stewardship director of American Whitewater, objected that the St. Joe North Fork wasn't given more Wild and Scenic River eligibility credit. The group also wants eight other streams protected.

The Defenders of Wildlife objected out of concern the plan fails to link areas that grizzly bears use to move within the Idaho Panhandle, Flathead, Kootenai and Lolo national forests and Canada.

Shawn Keough, executive director of Associated Logging Contractors, argued that the plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest was illegally limiting logging.