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Panhandle Forests Due More Job Cuts Workers Told To Expect Another 10 Percent Reduction In Force

The Idaho Panhandle National Forests may lose another 10 percent of its work force after its staff already has been reduced by a quarter since 1995.

Forest officials are preparing for a June meeting when they will outline a proposal to cut about 40 jobs from the 2.2 million-acre forest during coming years.

“The rumors had been around for some time,” but an official announcement came earlier this month, said Carl Gidlund, the forest’s information officer.

It’s not known exactly which of the forests’ 425 full-time jobs will be axed, but most of the positions likely will be taken from the supervisor’s office on Kathleen Avenue. The reduction may come through buyouts, attrition, transfers or layoffs.

The staff reductions are just the latest in a string of downsizing moves within the U.S. Forest Service that started late in 1993.

New job cuts call for eliminating 400 of the 3,000 positions in the region’s 11 forests in Idaho and Montana. Forests in California face cuts of more than 1,000 jobs.

“The cuts they’re making now are in addition to earlier cuts,” said agency spokeswoman Judy Kissinger in Washington, D.C. “This is a new round.”

A dramatic decline in logging in forests throughout the West has sparked several years of budget cuts.

That, combined with a push to make the U.S. Department of Agriculture the Clinton administration’s test case for “reinventing government,” led the agency to begin scaling back its greatest single expense - its labor force.

In the Panhandle forests alone, 150 jobs have been cut just since 1995, about 60 of them following cash buyouts.

During that time, the forests’ annual budget dropped from $30.4 million a year to $28.4 million and still is falling. Timber sales are down nearly 70 percent from a 1988 high of 247 million board feet.

A similar trend has hit the Colville National Forest, which went from 280 to about 210 employees and now sells about 60 million board feet of timber a year.

The Colville, however, expects to be spared during the latest round of worker cuts, in part because the forest’s $16 million budget is expected to remain stable.

“We’re a small forest and a conservative forest and we continue to cut some timber,” said Catherine Lay, personnel director for the Colville.

But the forest’s financial manager said the Colville will be following other forests soon.

In the Panhandle, officials are preparing a proposal that would outline job cuts and operational changes. They hope to present it to staff members and representatives of the forests’ three federal employee unions in early June.

That proposal will be debated and reviewed for several months before final decisions are made, probably early next fall.

, DataTimes

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