SUPERIOR – They’re frustrated and disgruntled here in Mineral County, and they’re not big fans of the United States Forest Service.

Paltry timber sales in a hurting county in which more than four of every five acres is controlled by the Forest Service are a big part of the reason, a roomful of seething locals told Tim Garcia, who was finishing his first week on the job as the new supervisor of the Lolo National Forest.

“The dollars are there. How can we make this work?” asked Kevin Chamberlain, the Mineral County extension agent. “Show us how. We don’t speak your language. We’re not part of your big green machine.”

Garcia was in town Friday at the invitation of the county commission and the Mineral County Resource Advisory Group, or McGRAG. He was accompanied by Superior District Ranger Tawnya Brummett and his new boss, Region 1 Forester Faye Krueger, who took part in a similar meeting in September with Garcia’s predecessor, Debbie Austin.

A crowd of 75 joined them, spilling out of a commissioners’ meeting room designed to hold 49.

“This is a jump off the high dive, but you know what? It’s what my job is. It’s my job to spend time with you all and to understand what’s going on, so I can help the ranger’s staff out here understand how to prioritize resources,” said Garcia, who most recently worked in Washington, D.C., as a legislative affairs specialist, working on fire management and the national recreation program.

“It’s not that we don’t have the desire or the interest,” he added. “It’s a capacity issue, and we’re making the best resource allocations and prioritizations based on what we think can get accomplished.”

****

The major point of contention in these parts is the $22 million Cedar-Thom project. It’s an integrated forest restoration project proposed in 2009 for the Cedar Creek and Thompson Creek drainages south of Superior.

“We’re still waiting for them to render a decision and get something going,” County Commissioner Roman Zylawy said.

Krueger said Cedar-Thom is undergoing a fisheries review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and she has committed a biologist at the regional office to help with that. The Forest Service listed Cedar Creek as a priority bull trout watershed. If the project clears that hurdle, it will next go through the agency’s objections process.

Krueger chafed at Tricon Timber owner Ken Verley’s characterization of the process as a stalemate and that the Forest Service operates with a “fear factor” of litigation.

Cedar-Thom is on her priority list, Krueger said, “but we do have to go into a decision understanding there will be challenges in the courts. It doesn’t scare us, but it prepares us, and we want to be prepared.”

“When was the last time we got litigated in Mineral County?” asked Verley, who took part in the conversation via speaker phone from St. Regis because of a family emergency.

“We’ve had two timber sales where we’ve had support from the Sierra Club as long as Tricon Timber bought the sale,” he said. “We work well with the environmental groups. We’d like to follow the collaboration process and we’d like to move forward, but the people on the ground need support from you folks at the top. They don’t want to hear rhetoric. I don’t want to hear rhetoric.”

Zylawy said it doesn’t sit well with him that the Forest Service decided against harvesting the remnants of the West Mullan wildfire that had downtown Superior on edge last summer.

“Meanwhile, the state of Montana is getting their wood out and private landowners are getting their wood out because they’ve got to beat that deadline before it’s not harvestable,” he said.

Brummett explained she made the decision at the district level not to pull her environmental analysis team off three big landscape projects it was working on to look at a smaller salvage project that had potential legal challenges.

****

Zylawy began the meeting with a statistic that hits home with Mineral County. According to a Forest Service report that came out last September, timber sales in northern Idaho rose 18 percent in 2012-13. In the same time frame, they dropped 42 percent in western Montana.

“We’re getting frustrated with our poor county relying on timber and none of it’s able to be harvested,” he said.

The whole Lolo National Forest is overmature, said Jim Arney of the Forest Biometrics Research Institute.

“It’s not growing, it’s declining,” said Arney, who lives in St. Regis and has been doing forest inventories and long-term sustained yield planning for 45 years.

“It will burn, and we’re talking about the (Forest Service) budget being all tied up in fire? That’s called reactive planning. They have to do proactive planning, which means they’ve got to start cutting trees,” he said.

Krueger urged the principals involved to follow up Friday’s meeting with a council involving Garcia and Brummett to collaborate on a plan to specifically address Mineral County’s concerns. Zylawy and fellow commissioners Laurie Johnston and Duane Simon were eager to participate, as were Angelo Ververis and Josef Kuchera of Tricon, who are both on the regional advisory group.

An initial meeting was set for next Thursday at the Superior Ranger Station.

Chamberlain said all the county can do is hope that Garcia’s appearance on the scene will lead to more timber harvests.

“We’re optimistic. We have to be,” the extension agent said. “That’s why you haven’t seen us in court. We choose not to litigate. We choose to do things with a handshake. We don’t want to act that way, but we feel as though we’re being pushed to that to gain significance, to gain relevance.”

Even lawmakers’ hands are tied in the face of Forest Service decisions, Zylawy argued with a quiver in his voice.

“We vote for them, we vote for Congress, but somebody in the Forest Service gets to make the decisions that we can’t even raise our families on,” he told Krueger and Garcia. “That’s where we want the interest to be pounded in your minds when you’re in Missoula thinking about projects for us.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

(12) comments

walter12
walter12

Yeah, yeah, you have heard this many times before but do not wait on this Obama Regime to get anything done out here. Everything that this gang has touched as been corrupted over the last 64 months.

Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria
Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria

The federal governments beaurocratic, one size fits all blanket strategy continually fails. Nothing has ever been ran efficiently by them and it never will.

Roger
Roger

The annual acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. has declined significantly.

1919 - 1929 - 26 million acres burned
1930 - 1939 - 39 "
1940 - 1949 - 27 "
1950 - 1959 - 8 "
1960 - 1969 - 4 "
1970 - 1979 - 3 "
1980 - 1989 - 4 "
1990 - 1999 - 4 "

http://www.worldclimatereport.com/archive/previous_issues/vol7/v7n21/feature.htm

Nationally 52,053 fires occurred in 2012 - below the national 10-year average of 66,160 fires.

9,009,248 acres burned in 2012 - compared to the national 10-year average of 7,011,102 acres.

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

Yz250
Yz250

And how was the pine beetle then?

Roger
Roger

The pine beetle was around then - it didn't suddenly pop into existence in relatively recent years.

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/library/mpb/bib107981.pdf

Yz250
Yz250

Yes, but the winters back then were colder than today, killing them off. They are a lot more numerous now, just look at homestake pass, almost half of what you can see is dead.

MyPointofView
MyPointofView

wow what a fun fact..30's 40's and 50's may have been missing slurry bombers, choppers, smoke jumpers, modern communications, dopler radar, massive budgets (which must be spent every year or lost), and the experience to use all of it, your facts are getting in the way of reality, plus the fact that a lot of the modern fires just run into an already burned area from previous years...lived here for 40 years

MyPointofView
MyPointofView

I know it's been said a million times, and it doesn't apply to everywhere, but when they used to log around here there were no where near as MANY fires, and the fires were not near as BIG,,they didn't BURN forever, there were WAY more jobs, MANY more TAX payers, LESS need of assistance for STRUGGLING families, thriving COMMUNITIES, LOTS more big game, and MUCH more public access, not to mention the waste of timber and the pollution of air/water, and the nasty fire retardents Lets do the math, fires are a negative BIG BUCKS, logging is jobs and TAX MONEY

Yz250
Yz250

Very nice comment, you don't need all these statistics the enviros are posting. Just look at what they have done to whole communities since they have almost stopped logging.

mICKEY
mICKEY

This article sounds like the same article from 1994. .20 years mineral county has been asking the usfs to cut more timber. .hopefully someday they will listen. Keep up the good work. ..100 million trees have died or burnt up waiting to be put to some kind of good use. .

mICKEY
mICKEY

This article looks exactly like articles wrote in 1994. ..20 years mineral county has been asking the usfs to listen. ..hopefully they will get things to turn..good luck. Keep up the good work. Never give up.!100 million trees have died and burned up waiting for the day they can be put to good use. ..

Miss Perfect
Miss Perfect

Consider my premise........I say that the BLM, USDA and especially the EPA have conspired for 40yrs to snuff out the middle class. If you have a good jog (Like the ones at the former Smurfit Mill) you can eat well, buy a car, buy a home and afford health insurance. If you cannot afford these things, you probably don't have a middle class job (Not to be confused with NO class job......this would be the post office).


My dad worked at the mill his whole career.......he was very lucky. My uncles and other relatives worked on the railroad, in trucking, in mining, timber harvesting and milling. None of them but one have a job now........they don't exist.

Think about it......how many jobs has the EPA snuffed out? Big corporations started packing up around here in the late 70's and it was a stampede in the 1980's. The generation in college now doesn't have a clue what I am talking about.....their parents are working in the parasite sector or the service industry with some professionals.

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