PUBLIC LANDS -- In the making for several years, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to consolidate the Nez Perce and Clearwater national forests into one administrative office and create a new headquarters for the merger in the small, timber town of Kamiah.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the decision Monday, culminating more than eight years of study and planning. Agency officials say the merger could save up to $2 million annually by combining administrative positions and ending duplication of services between the two forests.
Forest Supervisor Rick Brazell said despite the new headquarters in Kamiah, the agency would continue to have a presence in Grangeville and Orofino, cities that once served as home bases for the two forests. In Grangeville, he said there could be 50 to 60 people continuing to work out of that office, the Lewiston Tribune reported .
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Still, Grangeville Mayor Bruce Walker says he’s disappointed with the decision and was hoping the agency would give more time and consideration to a locally-crafted plan to split forest offices between the three communities. That analysis showed the agency would save more money by keeping the offices where they are now instead of moving administrative positions to Kamiah.
Two weeks ago, Grangeville residents sent a letter to Tidwell demanding an end to the consolidation proposal based on a 2007 internal agency report that also said consolidations of other forests in the country have not been beneficial to the Forest Service or the communities in which offices are located.
“I’m kind of in shock that it happened this quick. I honestly thought that they would look at our proposal,” he said. “We spent a lot of effort on this and we’re disappointed.”
Meanwhile, Kamiah Mayor Dale Schneider said he and the residents of the town are excited about the upcoming transition.
“I understand the concerns and resistance of other communities,” Schneider said. “But it’s hard to argue with the Forest Service when it says it’s going to save $10 to $14 million” in building leases by moving into buildings it already owns in Kamiah.”
Brazell said the agency has already reaped some benefits from consolidation. For example, the retirement of some administrative staff — some making salaries in the range of $130,000 per year — has meant budget savings, he said. For an agency that has seen its budget cut 27 percent in recent years, savings on salaries frees money that can be diverted to services.
“The reality is that our regular budgets are going down so you don’t get to recoup all that savings because some of that is just holding your own,” he said. “So we’re hoping by getting rid of some of those upper level positions we can keep those services on the ground for a longer period of time,” he said.