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At-risk acres to receive treatment

GRANGEVILLE – Federal planners may soon be more able to deliver on the old vision of conservation the first national forester, Gifford Pinchot, wrote of during the Forest Service’s early days: “where conflicting interests must be reconciled the question will always be decided from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

When it comes to counteracting the pests and diseases that multiply the fire risks that threaten forest communities, broad support for more efficient management is apparent in the public process that brings environmentalists, local governments and the forest products industry together.

Earlier this year, such collaboratives sent governors in many states lists of at-risk areas where more aggressive public management would be welcome, and governors of 35 states backed those recommendations when the Forest Service asked for their input last month.

Following through with provisions Congress wrote into the 2014 Farm Bill, the current Forest Service chief, Tom Tidwell, on May 20 signed off on all 50 areas proposed for Idaho by Governor Butch Otter, who adopted the boundaries suggested by Idaho’s collaborative groups.

Among the designated areas are five for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests recommended by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, including three local areas totaling more than 120,000 acres: 77,800 west of Riggins, 36,800 south of Grangeville, and 6,700 west of Elk City.

Writing to the Forest Service in March, Otter said “it is my expectation that priority will be given to projects within these initial designated treatment areas. Successful implementation of projects in these [areas] should serve as an example for future designation of additional landscape areas that move toward restoring forest resiliency across the national forest system landscape in Idaho.”

Explaining the Farm Bill on its website, http://www.fs.fed.us/farmbill/areadesignations.shtml, the Forest Service noted: “The newly designated areas will not immediately result in treatment, nor are the designations a commitment to treat all acres within designated areas.”

Other laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, still apply. But projects in these areas will allow the Forest Service to plan insect and disease treatment projects through streamlined NEPA procedures, “as we seek to increase the pace and scale of restoration across the National Forest System as a whole.”

Planners intend to speed up planning and review for projects to reduce those insect and disease risks – such as logging and prescribed burning – in the designated areas.

The 50 areas designated in Idaho total about 1.8 million acres. Statewide, according to Otter’s letter, 8.8 million acres in Idaho – 70 percent of the Forest Service’s manageable land – is at “high risk of mortality and fire….The magnitude of the issue in Idaho requires corrective action,” Otter wrote. “Successful implementation of projects in these initial designated treatment areas should serve as an example for future designation of additional landscape areas that move toward restoring forest resiliency across the national forest system landscape in Idaho.”

In other words: if this idea works well enough to scale up to the size of the problem, Idaho’s forest users will be better off in the long run.

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