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Forest project mixes jobs, restoration, timber cut

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has released a draft impact statement for a restoration project in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in northern Idaho intended to make the forest more resistant to fire, insects, disease and climate change.

The recently released plan calls for a mix of timber harvest, prescribed fire, road obliteration and culvert replacement in a 44,000-acre area 5 miles southeast of Kooskia. The plan includes multiple timber sales over several years the agency said would produce up to 85 million board feet of timber and create up to 2,000 jobs.

The plan is the result of a 5-year collaborative process by the Forest Service and Clearwater Basin Collaborative, made up of county commissioners, timber industry representatives and conservation organizations.

"They (collaborative members) were the ones that urged us to go big and do what needs to be done," Mike Ward, project coordinator of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, told the Lewiston Tribune reports. "For years we had fallen back to small, safe decisions. They were really supportive of large, landscape-level restoration type of work."

Ward said the collaborative group helped the Forest Service develop the project but didn't dictate the final decisions.

Commercial thinning is planned in areas that were planted in the 1960s and 1970s following large clear-cuts. Where fire suppression has led to a dense mix of tree species that tend to be the same age, the Forest Service plans regeneration harvest, which is similar to clear cutting but leaves pockets of trees living as well as some dead trees for wildlife habitat. That would leave irregular openings and stands of trees

"It tries to emulate a fire pattern," Ward said. "It doesn't look like your standard clear-cut."

Having a mix of younger forest and older forest, Ward said, would provide places to live for a wider array of species.

The amount to be logged would be more than the annual total harvest from the forest in all of its timber sales in recent years.

"We are doing something significant here," said Bill Higgins of Idaho Forest Group, a logging organization. "We have been working on this project since the beginning and using the historic range of variability and desired future conditions to look at what the land needs, what the forest conditions are and what it would take to move our forest toward those desired future conditions."

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League said his group is still examining the details.

"The door is open to us to look at land management projects that help restore the lands, the watersheds and the forests of the Clearwater Basin," he said. "It is part of our commitment to be a full partner in the CBC (Clearwater Basin Collaborative). It isn't enough to just advocate for our own interests. We will know the CBC is successful when we can advocate for the interests of others."

A 45-day comment period started Friday.

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Info from the Lewiston Tribune

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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