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Kicking the feds out of the forest

Feds in the Forest

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It was the agenda item for Tuesday, Oct. 3 that caught the eye. The Ravalli County Commissioners, it stated, were to meet with several local citizens at 9:30 a.m. to discuss “kicking the Forest Service out of the forest.”

The meeting was scheduled by a group calling itself VOTE, Voters’ Opportunity To Educate, an organization that includes Realtors, stockgrowers and builders, according to Lee Foss, a Hamilton-area Realtor and a spokesman for the group.

Despite the wording of the agenda item, Foss insists that VOTE has no intention of kicking the Forest Service out of the forest. What the group does want is for the Ravalli County Commission to sign a resolution giving the commission more input into decisions made by and for the Bitterroot National Forest. Specifically, they’re asking the commission to follow the lead taken by the Otero County, N.M., board of county commissioners, which demanded the same thing from Forest Service officials of the Lincoln National Forest.

It was the mismanagement and unhealthy condition of the Bitterroot National Forest that caused the 2000 firestorm, says Foss. Giving the commission more say in forest management will force the Forest Service to change its management practices, he adds.

“We’ve come up with a resolution to put the Forest Service on notice about the condition of the forest,” says Foss. “No one’s trying to kick the Forest Service out. … What we want is that the county commissioners respond to the forest plan.”

When asked how the forest could be better managed, Foss hedges a bit. “I’m not a forester,” he says. But he concedes that more logging and road building are needed if the forest is to avoid another catastrophic fire season.

The three county commissioners said little during the 50-minute presentation on Tuesday, and Foss later said he thought VOTE’s request had “gone over their heads.”

Commissioner Alan Thompson, however, says he’d already read the Otero County resolution “pretty carefully,” and understood VOTE’s aim. And though he says he has “problems” with some federal decisions, he’s not willing to go along with VOTE. “I disagree with the VOTE people on this issue,” Thompson says. “The last thing we need to do is manage the forest. Oh my goodness, the liability there ...”

Though the Forest Service takes VOTE’s request seriously, Bitterroot National Forest public affairs officer Dixie Dies says she doesn’t know precisely what it is they want, or how the Forest Service can appease them. She also questions why VOTE, which consists of ordinary citizens, would want a board of county commissioners to have more input into forest management decisions than other citizens. “He’d want the commissioners to have more of a voice than him?” she asks of Foss.

Thompson says the board is not likely to discuss this issue further, but Foss promises that VOTE, and the board of Otero County Commissioners, will continue to press it.

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