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Kettle Crest/Colville Forest meetings update

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sounds like a whole lotta nothing so far....

Consensus hasn't sprouted in Colville forest

Rich Landers
The Spokesman-Review
December 11, 2008

It's a jungle out there in the world of public process for designating new wilderness areas.

A fall series of six public meetings dealing with wilderness proposals for the Colville National Forest has left officials sorting through a tangle of comments.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no clear path to consensus.

"A lot of people came out to the meetings," said Ken Mondal, Washington Trails Association board member from Spokane. "At least they were friendly, and nobody got injured.

"But people came with their agenda and they left with their agenda. I don't think any minds were changed."

A more official but probably no more definitive analysis is likely to be released next week.

The Colville is in the early stages of revising its forest management plan. One of the required steps is to consider whether any roadless areas on the 1.1-million-acre national forest should be recommended to Congress for wilderness designation.

Previous surveys inventoried 21 roadless areas on the Colville totaling 240,000 acres.

People representing various interest groups who met in preliminary meetings in 2006 and 2007 found only two areas of broad agreement:

•An addition should be approved to the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, which is the only official wilderness area in the northeastern Washington-North Idaho region.

•The Lost Creek roadless area should not be recommended for wilderness.

After all the meetings this fall, the public apparently could not get beyond that.

"We attempted to hold one more round of discussions with a meeting on Nov. 22 to see if we could push further into areas of agreement," said Debbie Kelly, Forest Service spokeswoman and co-coordinator of the public meetings.

"There wasn't any super-clear recommendation," she said, noting that roughly 500 people attended the meetings and many more commented by mail or e-mail. "But there was no broad agreement."

The Northwest Forestry Coalition, which includes representatives from conservation groups and the timber industry, found consensus in recommending wilderness on up to 19 of the 21 roadless areas.

But motorized users and even mountain bicyclists are leading the effort to dig in and say "no" to more wilderness, period.

Kelly said forest officials were sorting through the "hundreds of comments."

"We hope to put out a report before Christmas," she said.

She described the turnout for the meetings as "tremendous," but don't hold your breath wondering if it got us anywhere.

The report coming out next week is likely to do little more than peg some trends.

"The first opportunity to share recommendations will be when the draft plan is released," Kelly said. "The target date is March of 2010."

Info: forest-plan.

Wildlife represented: Just as important as the wilderness discussions on the Colville are the even longer series of travel management meetings wrapping up on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

Page 2 of 2

This summer I reported on a group working hard to iron out differences on where motorcycles and ATVs should be allowed on the St. Joe National Forest. Despite deep disagreements that almost caused the group to fall apart, the representatives of hiking, horse-riding, landowner, and motorized recreation groups hung in there and found consensus on a majority of roads and trails in the district.

Last night the group met one last time in St. Maries to deal with a disappointing development.

Despite the compromises they made to make a unified proposal, the district ranger is planning to prohibit motorized use of a few of the routes where the group had agreed to allow motorized use.

"When the focus group was working, they didn't have all the wildlife security numbers," said Jodi Kramer, the Forest Service facilitator who's been working with the group.

In other words, state and federal wildlife biologists have a seat at the planning table, too. Based on their surveys and models, they contended wildlife, particularly elk, needed the security of a few more areas free of motorized traffic.

"The group worked hard toward consensus and I know some of them will be upset," Kramer said before the meeting.

On the other hand, hunters and wildlife lovers can take comfort knowing that elk are getting a say in the forest's recreational travel planning.

Kettle Range update: There's good news and bad news from the crest of the Kettle River Range:

•Bad: Vandals stole a $750 rescue toboggan that had been stashed with other emergency gear above Sherman Pass, according to Seth Krohn, recreation specialist for the Republic Ranger District.

•Good: Krohn planned to haul a snowmobile to Boulder-Deer Creek Pass east of Curlew today to pack snow for the region's first set cross-country ski trails of the season.

Looking forward to springers: An excellent run of 298,900 spring chinook salmon may enter the Columbia River in 2009 destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam, according to a preliminary forecast issued Wednesday by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department.

If that holds, it would be the biggest return since 2002.
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