The Clearwater National Forest could shed 15 percent of its work force by the time the U.S. Forest Service finishes coping with budget problems in three years, Supervisor James Caswell says.
The loss of 35 full-time positions from a total 222 was Caswell’s best estimate for timber industry representatives gathered Monday at Orofino’s Konkolville Lumber Co.
He also outlined a plan that would reduce the Clearwater from five districts to three. To clarify the staff’s mission, Caswell also proposed dividing the 1.8 million-acre forest roughly in thirds.
The eastern two-thirds would be placed in mostly custodial management while active forest management would be focused on the more developed western third.
Industry members said the plan would allow environmentalists to focus their appeals on a smaller area, making them better able to disrupt the agency’s plans.
With reduced timber sales, the agency’s budget is dropping accordingly, Caswell said.
The Northern Region office in Missoula, has already picked 100 positions to cut. Another 231 full-time jobs will have to be eliminated from the staffs of the region’s 12 national forests.
The hottest debate Monday was the North Lochsa Face proposal. The agency’s preferred alternative calls for burning as much as 56 million board feet of commercial timber along the Lochsa River instead of cutting it.
“Are we ready as a society to take the leap that we would rather burn 56 million board feet of timber instead of logging it?” asked Greg Danly of Kamiah Mills at Kamiah.
Caswell said he chose the option but added the decision has not been made. Bill Mulligan, president of Three Rivers Timber at Kamiah, said the agency had essentially camouflaged the real impact of the proposal by failing to spell out how much timber was involved.