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Today, KEA filed comments on the draft Forest Planning Rule, proposed by the U.S. Forest Service to govern how forest plans are drafted and, ultimately, how forests are managed into the future. The current rule has been in effect since 1982, and since then, all subsequent efforts to revise the rule have failed.

Our comments are less extensive and less technical, but they track the comments of other national conservation organizations, emphasizing the need to restore and protect watersheds and wildlife habitat, and the need to preserve roadless areas and the last remaining tracts of land with wilderness potential. Timber production and higher-impact recreational activities need to be regulated and zoned to suitable locations, and they must no longer be allowed to damage the resources.

Meanwhile, a new forest plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is expected to be released this summer under the old planning rule.

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In a letter dated March 4th, the district managers for both the Coeur d’Alene and Boise districts of the BLM rejected the proposed land exchange that would have transferred some 9000 acres of North Idaho BLM property to M3, in exchange for some 11,000 acres of M3 lands in the Boise foothills.  M3, an Arizona-based development company with an interest in a large development proposal outside of Eagle, had intended to immediately flip the North Idaho BLM properties to the Idaho Forest Group for timber harvesting. In the letter, BLM says “We have concluded this exchange proposal is not in the public’s best interest.”

Last summer, KEA submitted a letter to Congressional representatives and BLM sharply critical of the proposed exchange.

According to the BLM’s analysis, the acquisition of the sagebrush steppe southern parcels was not equivalent to the loss of high natural resource and timber values of the forested North Idaho lands. BLM noted specifically that the value of the North Idaho properties would be expected to increase substantially in value, while the value of the southern parcels would “remain at or near current value” due to their limited development potential.

The BLM also noted that many of the North Idaho parcels proposed for exchange had high resource values for “wildlife, fisheries, recreation, open space, timber, and threatened and endangered species habitat and connectivity” that were not equaled by the southern properties.

Notably, the BLM letter seemed to foreclose any further action on this exchange for the immediate future. The letter says BLM will not consider “further modifications or refinements” from M3 until the BLM’s Boise office completes its planning process for the Four Rivers area, where the southern part of the exchange would occur. The Four Rivers plan is expected to be completed in 2013.

 

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In yet another attempt to update regulations for planning on National Forests, today, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft planning rule for public comment. The current regulations for forest planning date back to 1982. Attempts at revision have been delayed, scuttled, or struck down by courts. The new rule would apply nationally to some 155 National Forests, including our own Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

According to the Forest Service press release, “The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.”

The new rule will be subject to a comment period scheduled to end May 16. A public meeting on the rule has been tentatively scheduled for Coeur d’Alene in March.

 

 

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We just sent our letter off to the U.S. Forest Service calling for a winter closure of a road on 4th of July Pass so that quiet ski and snowshoe hiking can continue without motorized disruptions.

We submitted a letter to support a Special Use Permit proposal from Panhandle Nordic Ski Club which calls for the Forest Service to close roads 614 and 918 to motorized winter travel. KEA originally submitted comments to the Forest Service in April 2009 supporting winter closure of FSR 614 in favor of non-motorized winter recreation.

From our letter:

Allowing motorized vehicles to travel FSR 614 in winter is fundamentally incompatible with the predominant and traditional non-motorized winter uses in that location.  Motorized uses ruin cross country ski tracks, disrupt attempts to groom ski trails, and introduce unwanted noise and exhaust fumes.  Cross country skiers and snowshoe hikers seek and need quiet Forest Service roads to enjoy their sports. More generally, motorized uses are also disruptive of wildlife habitat and can cause trail damage lead to erosion and watershed impacts. Still, motorized winter sports enthusiasts have an abundance of trails located north of I-90 and elsewhere in the Coeur d’Alene River District.

Anyone interested in commenting should sent a quick note to the NEPA Coordinator, Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service, 2502 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814. Comments are due by February 25th.

 

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We sent a version of this post to our friends and members earlier this week, and we thought we’d share our thoughts on 2010 here as well. We’ve had a pretty good year at KEA.

As this end-of-year letter is being written, the Kootenai County Commissioners are finally completing work on the long-awaited comprehensive plan. As you know, KEA has been involved at every step of the way. Although the final product is not all that we would have liked it to be, the new plan is still a vast improvement over the hopelessly out-of-date version currently in effect. KEA’s friends and members can take credit for most of the improvements within the new plan, and for fending off attempts to derail those improvements by developers, builders and misguided business interests.

In other 2010 accomplishments, KEA’s Community Roots program started up Kootenai County’s first, and only, charitable CSA in Dalton Gardens, making CSA fresh produce accessible to food stamp recipients. Meanwhile, the Roots program also maintained our plot at the Shared Harvest community garden and continued our fresh food deliveries to food assistance facilities in Coeur d’Alene.
KEA continues to comment on U.S. Forest Service proposals in the region, and was successful this past summer in pressuring the local USFS office to release overdue monitoring reports. We continue to be engaged in very preliminary collaborative conversations about forest management throughout the Panhandle, and we increased our coalition and coordination efforts with fellow conservationists and forest activists throughout the region.

In the past year, KEA spent a great deal of time and effort on difficult and controversial water quality concerns. With our partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic at Gonzaga Law School, KEA was successful in forcing the Federal Highway Administration to correct serious deficiencies in its Fernan Lake Road reconstruction project. KEA also provided substantial comments into the Spokane River cleanup process and EPA’s proposed cleanup for the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin.

We know that the most successful strategy for environmental protection is a well-educated community. This is why KEA has worked hard to improve our communications and outreach efforts.  We have utilized social media to extend our reach to a wider audience than ever before via Facebook, Twitter and this KEA blog and we continue our work to improve our newsletters, e-news, and website.  Also, our 38th year of noon meetings at the Iron Horse may have been our best so far.

In October, our Second Annual Junk2Funk Eco-Fashion Show bigger, better, and more successful than the previous year. With more than 35 artists participating in this chic eco-fashion event, our annual event has made environmental/conservation awareness positively fun.

Looking ahead to 2011, we expect to make more progress, and new progress. This spring and summer, look for KEA to begin a new phase of our Hayden Lake Project with some demonstration projects in collaboration with local schools.

Look to KEA to gain greater protections for beloved Cougar Bay. And look to KEA to lead the efforts to re-write the zoning and development regulations in Kootenai County to protect natural and scenic resources, maintain rural areas, stop sprawl, and protect our quality of life.

If you’ve heard me speak about KEA, you’ve probably heard me say it it before, the most important prerequisite for environmental protection in our region is a healthy KEA. The strength, breadth and commitment of our grassroots members and supporters are what gives us influence and power to do the critical conservation work that none of us can do alone.


Please consider an end of year contribution. If you’re not a member, consider joining. If you are a member, consider an additional contribution. If you’re a contributor, consider contributing a little extra this year. We know that this economy is tough and your household finances are stretched thin. At the same time, the threats to our environment and quality of life remain, while KEA’s already-tight budget is projected to be even tighter in the new year.

We accomplish what we accomplish because of your support.

From all of us at KEA, our very best for 2011.

Terry Harris
Executive Director

 

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We got word today that the U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn the massive Lakeview-Reeder project which would have authorized commercial harvesting of more than 2300 acres near Priest Lake. According to a letter signed by Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Renotta McNair, “The Forest Service will not proceed with the activities proposed by the Lakeview Reeder Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project unless and until we undertake further analysis in accordance with all applicable law and make a new decision.”

The environmental community was sharply critical of the proposed sale on a number of grounds, but the Forest Service’s decision appears to be rooted in a recent federal appeals court decision that was critical of how the Forest Service manages wildlife habitat.

The wildlife biology is quite complex, and the court’s decision is quite complex, and the Lakeview Reeder project has very similar habitat issues to those criticized by the court. So we think it was probably a wise decision by the Forest Service to take another hard look at this project before moving forward with something that might not hold up in a courtroom.

 

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After a couple of days in Shoshone County talking about forest projects, we were pleased upon returning to the office to notice that, as promised, the US Forest Service has finally posted long-overdue monitoring reports for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009. (Scroll down to download a big pdf file under “Forest Plan Monitoring and Evaluation”)

Recall that KEA sent a letter earlier in the summer calling for the reports to be published. The Forest Service responded with a promise that the reports would be finalized and published by August 31st. We’re very happy to announce they’ve kept their promise. So now, we look forward to our own detailed review of the charts, graphs, facts and figures that constitute a snapshot look at the region’s forest resources. We’ll let you know our thoughts on the report once we have some time to digest it.

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