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Stewardship and landscape are two words getting so common on Montana forests, we're in need of some land stewards.

Anyone interested in volunteering better get his or her paperwork together quick, because the deadline is Monday. That's when nominations are due for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Advisory Committee - a new body helping Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack decide how to spend millions of dollars on forest management.

"I would hope people are throwing hats into the ring," said the Wilderness Society's Scott Brennan, who's part of a proposed landscape stewardship project in the Blackfoot-Clearwater area. "It's part of our culture in Montana to be collaborative and work together, but we don't have the market cornered."

The advisory committee was established a year ago, deep within the roughly 150 separate projects approved in the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009. But the call for nominations wasn't published in the Federal Register until March 5. Prospective members need to explain their expertise, give reasons why they want to serve, show experience in coordinating group work, and fill out a federal committee membership background information form. Some letters of recommendation would also be welcome.

Committee members would select up to 10 projects, each with annual budgets up to $4 million, scattered across the country. The projects are intended to create jobs, reduce wildfire costs, improve the environment and sell forest products to help offset the expenses. "Forest products" range from traditional timber logs to pulp and woody biomass.

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If that sounds a lot like Sen. Jon Tester's proposed S.1470 stewardship contracts, you're close.

"This is not a result of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, but it is parallel to our bill," Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said. Tester's bill would create local committees to oversee forest work in three parts of Montana: the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Kootenai National Forest and the area around the southern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

And many of the same people who advocated for inclusion in Tester's bill are also working to land one of these Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects. Brennan has teamed with Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin and the Clearwater Resource Council's Megan Birzell on a new group called the Southwestern Crown Collaborative.

"The program is supposed to create jobs, restore habitat, generate some fiber for mills or biomass, and come up with a 10-year plan for doing that," Brennan said. "A bunch of us have been working together for years in the Blackfoot-Clearwater to do that."

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Those folks have marked out a 1.5-million-acre territory in parts of the Forest Service's Seeley Lake, Swan and Lincoln ranger districts where the Montana Forest Restoration Committee has already penciled out a bunch of projects. Those range from timber cutting and thinning to road removal to fisheries improvements. The participants include conservation groups, area ranchers, sawmill owners and environmentalists.

But they're up against similar coalitions in places like northeast Washington, Arizona and Utah. And Vilsack's rules only allow two projects per Forest Service region and just 10 projects total. The Forest Service has not released a list of the nominees who want to be on the advisory committee.

Nevertheless, Montana appears to be in good standing. All three of the stewardship areas in Tester's draft legislation grew out of local collaborative groups that existed long before this opportunity came along.

"I see great synergy in the Blackfoot," Brennen said. "These trains are all headed in the same direction."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com

 

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