The following are newspaper link from around Montana on this innovative plan. Following the links will be excerpts from the Missoulian article from Jan. 25, 2007.
Great Falls Tribune: http://www.greatfallstribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007701250301
Helena Indepdendent Record: http://www.helenair.com/articles/2007/01/25/helena/a01012507_01.txt
ABC affiliates: http://www.kfbb.com/index.php?StoryID=5975
January 25, 2007
KALISPELL – A wildly diverse group thinks it can change the way the woods work, and on Wednesday unveiled its private plan for public forests near Seeley Lake.
“This landscape-level proposal recognizes that the Blackfoot Valley is a unique ecosystem,” said Gordy Sanders of Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. He noted the area’s forests, wildlife, wilderness values and recreation opportunities, saying the proposal he and others have crafted offers a little something for everyone.
The loggers are praising it, as are the wilderness advocates. The ranchers like it, and so do the snowmobilers and the outfitters and the hunting groups.
“The Blackfoot has a vision of a community and conservation approach to the entire Blackfoot River watershed,” said Ovando rancher Jim Stone. “This vision includes protecting traditional ranching, hunting, fishing and other uses, in concert with conserving water and wildlife, wilderness and sustainable forestry activities. This landscape proposal is a shining example of how partnerships can and should work.”
Generally, Sanders said, what doesn’t work are broad plans created by the U.S. Forest Service to manage public lands. The proposal presented Wednesday, he said, looks to offer the kind of specifics that can get the groundwork done within the federal government’s broader planning framework.
He hopes the draft, which still must undergo the rigors of public scrutiny, will eventually lead to a legislative package including more wilderness, more logging, more forest restoration and even a biomass power plant for Pyramid Lumber.
Two years in the making, the plan involves the 400,000-acre Seeley Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest, as well as adjacent private lands. It is an area boasting an impressive history of collaborative land-use management, including the 41,000-acre Blackfoot Community Conservation Area.
Eventually, with congressional support, the stakeholders involved imagine far-reaching legislation that embraces all interests.
Bob Ekey, of the Wilderness Society, is banking on federal funds to restore habitat for bull trout, grizzly bears and big game. He’s also eyeing 87,000 acres of newly designated wilderness.
Those lands already are protected and managed as wilderness, Ekey said, including the Monture Creek area, with its 110 miles of trails in the North Fork of the Blackfoot, as well as the West Fork of the Clearwater near the Mission Mountains Wilderness.
The snowmobilers, likewise, are banking on a new designated “play area,” as well as trails that link Seeley to places as far-flung as Lincoln.
“The entire proposal includes our input,” said snowmobiler Ron Ogden, president of the Seeley Lake Drift Riders. The plan, Ogden said, “does a good job balancing uses across the landscape.”
Outfitters are hoping for better trails, more big-game habitat and security from subdivision.
Timber managers are looking at a federal investment in forest restoration and stewardship logging, some $790,000 a year for 10 years. Of that, Sanders said, about $300,000 would be aimed at restoration work, and would be matched “dollar for dollar” by conservation groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
About $490,000 of the total annual earmark would be applied to planning, managing and monitoring stewardship timber sales on federal lands in the Seeley area. Some of that work would include forest health and thinning to reduce fire hazards.
Many of the acres already are heavily roaded, logged by Plum Creek Timber Co. before being sold. Those areas, Sanders said, are generally low-elevation sites good for growing and cutting trees, while the up-slope acres will receive a “lighter touch on the land.”
A separate proposal would request $1.5 million in taxpayer money toward a $3 million boiler for Pyramid Lumber. The group also wants
$3 million in federal funds toward a $4 million biomass power plant that would use the new boiler to make energy.
Most of that energy would be used at Pyramid, Sanders said, burning small-diameter trees that otherwise have no market value, while at the same time freeing up power now purchased from the local electricity cooperative.
“This is what we’ve been trying to do for 30 years,” Stone said. “If we’re going to be sustainable on the ground, we’ve got to work with all our partners.”
The partners who have worked these past two years hammering out the proposal emphasize that it remains just that – a proposal. The next step, they said, is to take it to the public, take it to Montana’s congressional delegation, take it to the powers that be and the folks with the purse strings.
It may seem a longshot at a time of tight Forest Service budgets, they admitted, but said it is a small investment if the proposal actually speeds projects and accomplishes goals on the ground. That, they said, is something broader Forest Service plans have not always been able to do.
This roll-your-sleeves-up-and-do-it-yourself approach is nothing new for their community, they said, pointing to several collaborative land-use projects near Seeley and Ovando that have conserved wildlands, benefited wildlife, provided jobs and boosted local economies.
Part of the reason for past successes, Sanders said, is the investment by residents. Those locals will have a chance to pick through the plan on Feb. 20, at either the Ovando offices of the Blackfoot Community Project or the fire hall across the street. The schedule for the meeting, now set for 5 p.m., is tentative.
The plan, however, is not. While organizers admit they expect to change and improve their proposal through public input, they insist their plan represents a solid foundation.
“We want to move beyond rhetoric,” Sanders said. “We want to move beyond gridlock.”
And the only way to do that, Ekey said, is to involve all the players, giving each a seat at the table.
“The power of the proposal,” he said, “is the whole landscape.”
By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian