Hanna Flats questioned

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PRIEST LAKE — Former executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Barry Rosenberg, had a few choice words to say June 15 about plans by the Idaho Department of Lands and the U.S. Forest Service to log 2,800 acres at Hanna Flats.

“What a deal for IDL,” said Rosenberg. “The IDL, which is notorious for its industrial logging methods, including the cutting of old growth, will make money from logging federal lands without having to pay for any long term management responsibilities. The camel has got its nose way under the tent. This should please the politicians who have been calling for transfer of Forest Service lands to the state.”

The longtime opponent of timber sales, who is also a steadfast Priest Lake homeowner, said that not only has the state agency got mercenary motives for its project, but also has unscrupulously used baseless claims of benefits to hoodwink area residents.

“The Hanna Flats timber sale is being justified by that same old, fear driven mantra. The Forest Service offers no on the ground surveys establishing abnormal presence of insects and disease. The agency also fails to provide scientifically credible monitoring regimes to verify its claims that the timber sale will bring the desired results and not cause significant environmental impacts to area streams, wildlife and soils.”

Rosenberg speculated that the timber sale would be exempted from the standard requirement for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. He also intimated that local rangers support the project because it will generate revenue for the state and thus lead to more jobs and greater job security for timber industry workers.

“Follow the money,” added Rosenberg. “The Priest Lake Ranger District does not have sufficient personnel to manage its desired timber program and meet its timber target. Its partnership with IDL, receipts from timber sales, and financial support from the timber industry will allow it to increase the number of timber sales which will insure agency jobs and industry profits.”

David Groeschl, Idaho State Forester and the deputy director of forestry and fire with the Idaho Department of Lands, said June 20 that Rosenberg’s allegations are factually incorrect. The project is not a money-making scheme for IDL. All revenues beyond the cost of the project will go into an account earmarked for that forest, he said.

“Any revenue generated on a project like this goes into an account for that forest and then that program income is put back on the ground in that forest, including for non-revenue-generating activity such as watershed restoration, non-commercial thinning work, road maintenance work to reduce sedimentation into watersheds, and to hire National Environmental Policy Act specialists to collect data.”

Also, no permanent positions will be funded out of Good Neighbor Authority work. He said the Hanna Flats plan does not call for widespread, clear-cut logging. Out of 2,800 acres only 114 will be clear-cut, and for specific reasons. All other acres will be thinned, he said. Neither will permanent roads be constructed, only temporary ones that will be rehabbed once the work is done. As for allegations that the project lacks a scientific basis, Groeschl said that the USFS has had two forest entomologists and a forest pathologist do work on Hanna Flats and their work has been published online for some time.

Treatments applied through the Good Neighbor Authority to federal lands will look different than the types of treatments being applied to state endowment lands because of the different missions dictated by laws governing those lands, he explained.

U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Shoshana Cooper said, “The goal of GNA in Idaho is to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed restoration activities on federal forests. Selecting Hanna Flats for a GNA projects allows the Forest Service and IDL to collaboratively complete the required environmental analysis NEPA analysis.”

Groeschl said IDL involvement started in 2014 with the Farm Bill’s expansion of the Good Neighbor Authority to all states with USFS lands. The Healthy Forest Restoration Act amended in the 2014 Farm Bill gave governors power to designate diseased forests with high risk of mortality. Relying on national risk maps developed by experts in fire risk, entomologists, and other scientists, Gov. Butch Otter and state officials worked with local forest collaboratives to designate Idaho forests suitable for possible Good Neighbor Authority work, said Groeschl. Cooper explained that the two agencies “carefully considered the project’s proximity to communities, economic viability, minimal environmental impact and availability of natural resources.”

Groeschl said the reason for the Hanna Flats work is simple: the state is engaged with the U.S. Forest Service in order to benefit the forests and the people of Idaho. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Our main objectives are to reduce the risk or extent of insect and disease infestation, reduce fuel load and risk to individuals and community there from fire, and improve forest health,” he said. IDL is partnering with USFS to be of assistance to their federal colleagues who are overextended, he said. Idaho alone has 8.8 million acres of federal lands that are at or near high risk of mortality from insects and disease, explained Groeschl. That number excludes federally-designated wilderness areas and areas where roads are prohibited.

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