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Clearwater-Nez Perce closes most of forest to public access as wind whips up fires

WILDFIRES — Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest officials closed more than 3.5 million acres to public access this afternoon as numerous fires totaling 80,000 acres on Friday spread significantly today in windy conditions.

Wind gusts in Lewiston registered up to 72 mph today.

The exception to the closure is the Palouse District, which has its office at Potlatch, Idaho.

In the Blue Mountains, a new fire blew up in the Tucannon River area near Dayton.

Here's the release just posted from forest officials based in Orofino:

Many of the widespread wildfires on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests made significant runs today, pushed by gusty winds and low relative humidities.

“The weather conditions that materialized today were even worse than predicted,” said Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert.  “I am extremely concerned about the safety of the people, communities and firefighters that may be in the paths of these rapidly-spreading fires.”

As a precautionary measure during extensive and severe fire activity, the Forests have issued an area closure prohibiting “human entry” into lands managed by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, with the exception of the Palouse Ranger District.

“I understand this will be inconvenient for some people, but our priority is public safety.  We will evaluate the situation on a day-by-day basis, but it will take a significant change in weather to improve our fire situation.”

Forest Supervisor Probert requests that all visitors re-locate to lands outside the Forests away from fire activity, and that all prospective visitors find alternate locations away from the closure area.
National forest system roads can be used to exit the Forest.  For state and county road information, contact the local sheriff’s office and Idaho Department of Transportation.

Fire managers are in the process of evaluating the spread of area fires and will provide revised acreage updates tomorrow.

See updates on the forests'  Fire Information website.

The Palouse District encompasses 500,000 gross acres of which there are about 145,000 net acres of National Forest System lands.

Potlatch timber company, which also has land in the region, closed its forests to public access in July because of extreme fire danger.


Be gentle with huckleberries, Forest Service urges

NATURE — It seems sad that the Forest Service has to urge people to be gentle with our beloved huckleberry bushes.  Greed is a sickness even among people with purple fingers.  

Although the season is nearly dried up except at higher elevations, here's the release from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests:

Due to the dry season recreational pickers are finding fewer berries than in recent years. This shortage has resulted in many questions about huckleberry picking, and concerns for some of the rough methods and illegal picking operations recently observed on the national forest. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) is reminding huckleberry pickers that commercial picking of huckleberries is not permitted. Additionally, huckleberry pickers are encouraged to pick only what they can consume so that others may enjoy the fun of picking and the delicious taste of our state fruit.

At this time of year, it is not too surprising just about everybody in northern Idaho looks forward to huckleberry picking, but the IPNF wishes to remind forest visitors about responsible picking methods. Commercial gathering of huckleberries involves gathering the berries for the purpose of selling them, and is not permitted on the IPNF. In order to provide ample opportunities for recreational pickers, commercial permits are not available for huckleberry gathering. Minimum fines for commercial picking start at $250, and can increase based on the severity of the offense. For recreational huckleberry gathering there are no permits required, nor are there volume or weight limits, but pickers are limited to gathering only reasonable amounts for personal consumption.

Methods for huckleberry gathering vary widely, but pickers are strongly encouraged to hand pick their berries. This ensures that only ripe berries are harvested and the bushes will remain healthy and productive for many years to come. Although rakes and other mechanical devices may be used they are strongly discouraged. The use of rakes and other devices result in harvesting ripe and unripe berries indiscriminately, robbing others of the opportunity to pick berries later in the season. Similarly, any methods that damage or destroy the bushes are illegal and may result in a fine for damaging natural resources.

Huckleberries are delicious favorites of both people and bears. Because bears love huckleberries and make them a major source of summer and fall nourishment, humans who pick huckleberries should always carry bear spray. It is not uncommon to have a chance encounter with a bear that is out to eat the same berries you came for.

The huckleberry was designated by the Idaho Legislature in 2000 as the official state fruit. Huckleberries freeze well and can provide a very healthy addition to your diet all year long. It is estimated that huckleberries grow at elevations between 2,000 feet and 11,000 feet.  For more information about huckleberry picking on the IPNF, please visit our website or contact your local Forest Service office.

St. Joe Travel Plan for motorized use out for public review

PUBLIC LANDS — A proposed Travel Management Environmental Assessment that designates motorized travel routes for the St. Joe Ranger District has been updated and is available for public review and comment.

The Draft EA has been developed based on requirements of the 2005 Travel Management Rule. The rule requires each national forest to designate roads, trails, and areas that will be open to motorized travel, identify the type of wheeled motorized vehicles that are allowed to use these routes, and publish this information on a Motor Vehicle Use Map.

After the map is published cross-country wheeled motorized vehicle use will be prohibited.

Public participation in developing alternatives included meetings, comment periods and participation by the St. Joe Focus Group," said St. Joe District Ranger Matt Davis.

Legislation and national policy have changed since the original St. Joe Travel Management EA was released in 2009. These changes required the St. Joe Ranger District to update the Travel Plan EA to reflect the updated directives. Although the changes do not require additional public review, Davis felt it important to ensure the public has the chance to review and comment on the updated Draft EA before he issues a draft decision notice.

Public comments will be used to help refine the analysis and to develop a draft decision. The 30-day comment period ends Sept. 8, 2015.

Information on the plan is available from the district St. Maries office, (208) 245-2531, or on the project website.

Firefighting burns up Forest Service budget; other needs unfunded

PUBLIC LANDS — Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service released an alarming report illustrating the profound impact of rising firefighting costs on national forest conservation, restoration, recreation and management programs.

If you're wondering why the Colville National Forest doesn't have a pro-crew for trail maintenance this season, here's you're answer.

Firefighting costs consume more than  50 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, compared with just 16 percent in 1995.

The costs are expected to comprise two-thirds of the agency’s budget in 10 years if left unaddressed.

The Washington Post has this report on the report:

Report: Wildfire costs now consume one-half of the USFS's budget
The U.S. Forest Service says it spent 16 percent of its budget fighting wildfires in 1995, that this year more than 50 percent of its budget will be spent on that purpose, and that, under current budget conditions, wildfire spending will constitute 67 percent or more of its budget by 2025.

U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department contains the Forest Service, is calling for a new funding model to fight wildfires, and that he would prefer a "budget cap adjustment," which allows agencies to spend more money on disasters outside spending caps.

Forest firefighters request public help; fire danger persists

WILDFIRES — With all the publicity about fire danger, not to mention all the smoke in the air, it's hard to believe that some people still don't get it.

Dumping smoldering briquettes in the woods? Unattended campfires? Can anyone be that clueless this summer?

Here's an update posted Sunday and a plea from Jill Cobb, Fire Information Officer for the Priest Lake area firefighters.

It cannot be stated enough how much our crews feel welcome and appreciated by this community.  Having said that, we are asking for a little help from everyone to keep our crews safe and to help prevent future fires. 

Crew Safety:  Our crews are eating and showering at the gravel pit off of Ravin Ranch Road, north of the airstrip. These same crews sleep south of the airstrip off of Kalispell Bay Road at the Reynolds Creek Group site. It has come to our attention that shots are being fired late at night in the vicinity of our fire personnel. We are worried about the safety of our firefighters and support personnel and therefore respectfully ask the public to use firearms responsibly and be aware of our fire crews. 

Wildfire Prevention:  We need your help to prevent future fires. 

As unbelievable as it may seem, there are people who are still being careless with fires.  A few days ago, our firefighters had just finished a long 16 hour shift on the fire line.  These people were sleeping at the Reynolds Group Camping Site when they were awakened by the smell of smoke. When the firefighters should have been sleeping, they had to jump out of their beds to suppress this fire in the middle of the night.  It was determined that a careless camper who had stayed at the campsite prior to crews, had dumped hot charcoal briquettes in the woods. Forty eight hours later, the briquettes came back to life and started a fire.

Today, our folks were alerted to an unattended campfire in the vicinity of Stagger Inn.  This campfire was still very much alive and could have easily caused wildfire.  Again luck was on our side and we were able to prevent another wildfire. As you all know, we cannot be everywhere, so we really appreciate your help with extinguishing any fires that you find and letting us know if more help is needed. We are all in this effort together and unfortunately this is just the beginning of what may be a long fire season at Priest Lake. 

On Tuesday, July 14, the Priest Lake area will be moving from Stage 1 to Stage II Fire Restrictions, which means no campfires will be allowed anywhere until the order is changed.   

Click here for fire updates.

CdA River boat launch closed for firefighting efforts

WATERSPORTS — Record low flows in the North Fork Coeur d'Alene River combined with the high fire danger have prompted authorities to close a boat access to allow firefighters to have sure access to water.

The Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District is reserving the use of the boat launching site across from Road 602 and just above Shoshone Base Camp for the Prichard-Murray Fire Department and the Forest Service in case there is an urgent need to access water for fire suppression operations.

The low flows have reduced the options the firefighters have for pumping water into it's water tender tanks.

The boat launch site and the road leading to the site will be closed for administrative use until the fire danger is lower.

Forest Service officials issued this announcement:

Forest conditions on the Idaho Panhandle NF are among the driest ever seen at this time of year and forest visitors are urged to exercise extreme caution with any source of heat of fire in the forest. Stage 1 fire restrictions are in effect for all of north Idaho restricting campfires only to developed, designated campgrounds with metal fire rings, and restricting smoking to enclosed vehicles or areas cleared of vegetation.

For more information on fire restrictions please visit the Idaho Panhandle NF website or contact your local Forest Service office.

Forest Service offering on-demand language interpretation

PUBLIC LANDS —  A pilot “on demand” phone interpretation service to enhance public service to non-native English speakers has been announced by the Pacific Northwest Region of the USDA Forest Service for its offices in Oregon and Washington.

Actually, it was announced last week to the media before it was announced to the forest offices around the region.   I checked with several offices, including the Colville National Forest, and the information below was as newsy to them as it was to me:

“We are committed to improving public access to Forest Service programs to foster respectful and inclusive interactions with the people and communities we serve,” said Jim Peña, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester in Portland. “We want to ensure everyone has access to the information they need to fully participate.”

The new phone service offers immediate language interpretation at Forest Service offices, visitor centers and in the outdoors when phone service is available throughout national forests in Washington and Oregon. Visitors will be asked to identify their language, and Forest Service staff will call an interpretation specialist.

The pilot contract held with TransPerfect provides interpretation for 170 languages. Call data will be assessed to determine the need for future services.

Approximately one in five people nationwide have limited English proficiency, the Forest Service says.

The Pacific Northwest Region consists of 16 National Forests, 59 District Offices, a National Scenic Area, and a National Grassland. These management units comprise 24.7 million acres in Oregon and Washington and employ approximately 3,550 employees.

So far, there's no word in any language when this service will be available region-wide.


Idaho officials seek to intervene in Forest Service lawsuit

Idaho officials have filed court documents to intervene in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service brought by a northern Idaho couple and an environmental group, the AP reports; the state  Board of Land Commissioners and Idaho Department of Lands made the filing in U.S. District Court.

Idaho officials contend the state has a substantial interest to intervene because the lawsuit seeks to block a road that's the only access to a salvage timber project on state land, writes AP reporter Keith Ridler. Idaho officials say the wildfire-damaged trees will lose value and are prone to insect infestation. The state Department of Lands also announced the previously canceled timber sale for the area has been rescheduled for Friday in Kamiah.

"We are confident that the eventual timber sale purchaser has the right of access to the state parcel without the need for Forest Service approval," said Tom Schultz, state lands director. Laird Lucas, an attorney at Advocates for the West who is representing Idaho Rivers United, said Wednesday that he's preparing paperwork seeking an injunction to prevent the use of the road until the federal court rules on the initial lawsuit. You can read Ridler’s full report here.

Nez Perce Forest sets public meetings on motorized use plan

PUBLIC LANDS — Forest Service officials say they are "re-engaging the public" on the Nez Perce National Forest travel plan through a series of public meetings before the  final decision on the Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use is made later this summer.

Cheryl Probert,  Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor, says her decision would designate motor vehicle use on specific roads, trails and areas on the Nez Perce side of the rorest; and result in a Motor Vehicle Use Map the public would use to see where motorized use would be allowed.

Forest staff will update the process and present alternatives that will be in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and considered in the upcoming decision. Public meetings are scheduled in Grangeville, Elk City, Riggins and Kamiah before the final meeting, 5 p.m. on July at the Idaho Fish and Game Department's, Lewiston Office, 3316 16th St.           

The Forest Served began the project in 2007 with a proposed action to manage motor vehicle use on roads, trails and areas on the Forest. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement was published in 2009, followed by a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2010. The Forest has gathered and considered numerous comments from the public.

For details, background and updates, see the project webpage.

Info: (208) 983-4048.

Colville National Forest supervisor transferring to new post

PUBLIC LANDS — The supervisor of the Colville National Forest is leaving town to take Forest Service job in Arizona.

Laura Jo West, a 26-year career Forest Service employee, has been named Forest Supervisor of the Coconino National Forest in northern Arizona. 

She replaces Earl Stewart, who accepted a position as the forest supervisor for the Tongass National Forest in Alaska beginning mid-April.

“We are very happy to welcome Laura Jo back to this region,” said Southwestern Regional Forester Calvin Joyner.  “Her experience working with diverse stakeholders on a collaborative approach to forest management in Washington will serve us well as she helps oversee the largest restoration project on any of the National Forests.”

West has been Forest Supervisor of the Colville National Forest since 2010.  She will head to Flagstaff, Arizona, later this summer.

When West’s selection was announced, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Jim Pena said, “Laura Jo has done an outstanding job on the Colville, establishing close ties with the community and working extremely well with the public."

A Pennsylvania native, West graduated from Utah State University in 1982 with a degree in Recreation Resource Management.  She also holds an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University.  Prior to leading the Colville National Forest, West was a District Ranger on the Prescott National Forest in Prescott, Arizona.

Marten named Northern Regional forester based in Missoula

PUBLIC LANDS — A former University of Idaho student and Kootenai National Forest planner has been named regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service Northern Region based in Missoula.

 Leanne Marten has been selected to manage National Forest System lands across 25 million acres spread over five states, including 12 National Forests located within the perimeter of northeastern Washington, northern Idaho and Montana and well as the National Grasslands in North Dakota and northwestern South Dakota.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the appointment on Friday

Marten has worked for the Forest Service for more than 20 years and is currently the National Director for Ecosystem Management Coordination for the US Forest Service.

She replaces Faye Krueger, who retired from the Forest Service in January.

Here's more from the Forest Service on the new regional forester's background:

Marten is National Director for Ecosystem Management Coordination for the U.S. Forest Service. She has worked for the Forest Service for more than 20 years, including assignments in the Northern Region. Leanne started her career as a seasonal employee on the Palouse Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest in Northern Idaho while obtaining her Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science from Washington State University. She went on to graduate school at the University of Idaho, where she received her Masters of Science in Forest Resources.

After finishing up her schooling, Marten worked full time for the Forest Service on the Canoe Gulch Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest in Montana. She later worked as a planner and environmental coordinator for the Kootenai prior to moving east to be a District Ranger on the Ottawa National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Deputy Forest Supervisor and Forest Supervisor on the Huron-Manistee National Forest in the lower peninsula of Michigan and Forest Supervisor on the Allegheny National Forest in Northwest Pennsylvania.

Most recently, Marten served as the National Director for Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers in Washington, D.C. She has also had many temporary assignments throughout her career, including a detail as Deputy Regional Forester of the Southwestern Region, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Associate Deputy Chief for National Forest Systems, Washington, D.C.; and most recently, Acting Director for the National Partnership Office, Washington, D.C.

Marten grew up in the Forest Service, a second-generation employee, which combined with two decades of service give her extensive background into the Agency, it’s mission of caring for the land, its programs and its people.

Marten is married and currently lives in northern Virginia.  She has two sons, one in the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and the other starting college at the University of Idaho this Fall. 


St. Joe National Forest Avery Office reopening for season

PUBLIC LANDS — The Avery office on the St. Joe Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is opening Monday, May 18 after being closed for the winter.  The office has a range of information and resources available for visitors.

The office is along the scenic St. Joe River, a popular fishing and camping destination upstream from St. Maries, Idaho.

Firewood permits are available for $5 a cord (minimum purchase is 4 cords and maximum is 12 cords) and are valid on all public lands managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. 

Interagency Annual Access and Senior Passes are also available.  These passes cover entrance and standard amenity fees at a variety of Federal recreation sites.  Persons 62 years or older can purchase a Senior Pass for $10 and persons with a permanent disability can acquire an Access Pass with proof of required documentation.

Brochures detailing recreation opportunities on the St. Joe Ranger District are available, covering hiking, horseback riding, or riding a motorcycle on the district's trail system. 

Access is nearby for the world-famous 15 mile long Route of the Hiawatha Trail and the Emerald Creek Garnet Area. 

A cabin rental program includes the Arid Peak or Surveyors Ridge historic fire lookout towers. 

The Avery office is open Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed from noon to 12:30. 

Info: St. Joe Ranger District Avery Office, 208-245-4517 or the St. Maries office,208-245-2531.

Prescribed burns to start in Upper CdA River area

PUBLIC LANDS — Hikers and anglers need to be aware that the Forest Service will begin prescribed burning in the Upper Coeur d'Alene River area starting Sunday, May 3.  Here's the notice from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests:

Beginning on Sunday, May 3, 2015 firefighters from the Idaho Panhandle National forest plan to conduct a series of prescribed fires totaling 500 to 1,000 acres. The prescribed fires will be located in the upper reaches of the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River near Tee Pee Creek, the Coeur d’Alene River Trail, Spion Kop and Pond Peak. Depending on weather conditions, ignitions are expected to begin on Sunday and continue through Monday with lingering smoke and hot spots likely to remain in the area for several additional days. Signs will be posted along local roads and members of the public are urged to avoid the burn areas as ignition will take place very quickly using a helicopter . Forest Service firefighters will continue to monitor the burned areas until the fires are completely out.

The purpose of these prescribed fires is to reduce the risk of significant wildfire and to improve the quality, quantity and distribution of big game browse. Specific locations for the burn units include West Elk, Spion Kop, Cinnamon, Taft, Wilson and Gold Creeks.

See more info at Idaho Panhandle National Forest Website.

Mudders foul Colville NF meadow — again

PUBLIC LANDS — Some knuckle-dragging knucklehead in a four-wheel-drive vehicle left his mark in a Colville National Forest meadow this month.

The meadow had been torn up by "mudding" enthusiasts in a few years ago. The Forest Service has worked to restore the meadow with natural vegetation. "It was almost 100 percent rehabilitated, before this," said Franklin Pemberton, forest spokesman in Colville.

The damage apparently was done during the April 18-19 weekend in the meadow northeast of Colville on the Longshot Mine Road which is off the South Fork of Mill Creek Road.

Crews had responded to the earlier incident, smoothed out the ruts, installed a wooden fence and a posted sign so it was obvious that vehicles are prohibited in the meadow.

"All was well, for a couple years," Pemberton said.  "A full-size vehicle drove over the sign and through the fence to go out and destroy this nice meadow.

"Damage is extensive. We are seeking any information anyone may have related to this incident."

Report any tips on this or any other mudding damage in the Colville National Forest at (509) 684-7177.

Incidentally, Colville forest officers recently succeeded in an investigation that led to a conviction on a mudding case from Memorial Day of 2013, Pemberton said.

"This incident occurred off of the Middle Fork Calispel Creek Road and three individuals were involved.  Two individuals paid the full restitution amount of $2,559.35 to repair the meadow and a third paid $1,500 and was banned from the national forest for one year."

  • A reward is offered by the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers for tips that lead to convictions in illegal off-road driving incidents on public lands.


Forest Service invites more input in Blue Mountains plan

PUBLIC LANDS — Months of strategy meetings and preliminary public meetings are just the start of the work toward a Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision.

A series of community-hosted public engagement meetings are being set up by Forest Service officials in Oregon and southeastern Washington the over the next several months as the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman national forests work on management plans to guide their operations for the next 15 years or so.

The goal of the upcoming localized meetings is to encourage a dialogue among people with differing perspectives so that they can work together and identify common ground and create potential solutions which can be incorporated in the final Forest Plans.

“Based upon a preliminary review of people’s comments to the draft Environmental Impact Statement, we know that there are areas of concern that would benefit from further conversations,” Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor Tom Montoya said.  “We genuinely want to hear your ideas as we seek to create the best Plans possible for our forests and our communities.  This can only happen if we all work collaboratively with our stakeholders, partners, counties, and the public.”

“The engagement work we’ve done so far this year is just the beginning,” said Umatilla Forest Supervisor Kevin Martin.  “We welcome the opportunity to meet with any and all groups who are interested in helping us bridge the gap among divergent perspectives and finding solutions which will be acceptable to people on both sides of a concern area.”  

In other words, all people don't agree on management topics such as recommended wilderness, motorized vehicle use, fire management, timber harvest and other management categories.

This is a chance to work out some of the hitches to moving forward.

“There is tremendous value in the public’s participation,” said Steve Beverlin, Forest Supervisor of the Malheur National Forest.  “Through this process, we will learn how the Draft EIS should be changed.  We have flexibility for modifying the existing alternatives or developing new alternatives, provided the changes continue to follow all applicable laws, regulations and policies that the Forest Service must follow."

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the proposed Revised Plans were released in March 2014 for a 150-day comment period.  The Forest Service also held more than a dozen public meetings in Eastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington. 

For info on engagement events scheduling, contact Melissa Wilson, Acting Public Affairs Officer for the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision, (541) 523-1231, email (mwilson04@fs.fed.us).

Forest Service names new leaders in St. Joe, Okanogan

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Forest Service has filled two key positions in national forests around the Inland Northwest.

Matthew “Matt” Davis has accepted the St. Joe National Forest district ranger position on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest starting May 31 based out of St. Maries.  Davis has been the district ranger for Priest Lake and has stepped in as the acting St. Joe district ranger.

Davis has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology and a master’s degree in fisheries management, not a bad combo for managing a the public land surrounding a world-class cutthroat trout fishery and some premium big-game habitat.

The forest is working on filling the Priest Lake Ranger position.

Mike Williams has been named the new Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest supervisor.

Williams is currently the Forest Supervisor on the Kaibab National Forest in the Southwestern Region 3. He has more than 30 years with the Forest Service, including range, fire and restoration forestry positions in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and a special assignment to Capitol Hill. During his time on the Kaibab NF, he has reintroduced fire as a management tool. 

Williams is a native of southern Minnesota, and grew up in a small agricultural town north of the Iowa border. He holds a BS degree in Forest Resource Management from the University of Minnesota College of Forestry. His first permanent job with the U.S. Forest Service took him to the Siuslaw National Forest on the Oregon coast in 1977. Subsequent jobs took him to Northern California and assignments on the Klamath, Plumas and Lassen National Forests. He was District Ranger on two forests in the northern Sierra Nevada’s for more than a dozen years, and has served on the Forest Management staff at Forest Service national headquarters. 


Huckleberry picking banned in Idaho Panhandle forests

PUBLIC LANDS — In the latest  and worst-case scenario of federal government overreach, huckleberry picking will be prohibited on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests in 2015.

Although the formal announcement hasn't been made, Priest Lake blogger Pecky Cox spilled the berries today after beating the bureaucratic bushes for the scoop:

A long and complicated battle between Federal bureaucracies, State horticulture analysts and assorted restaurant and grocery interests has resulted in, once again, a Federal agency  taking charge of a long and historic family and commercial activity.  Picking Huckleberries in the National Forest will now be closed for the 2015 season by Federal Mandate.

The Department of Agriculture is the leading arm of the Federal Government that has pushed for  the new regulations on picking, using, consuming and selling the Huckleberry fruit taken from Forest Service lands.  The regulation has been under consideration for over two years and was signed Monday. 

The Huckleberry fruit, known best by it's heavy crops in Northern Idaho, has  been, a popular tourist attraction and a family activity for over a hundred years. The fruit is featured as a base for Huckleberry Pies, Ice Cream and the world famous Elkins Resort Daiquiri at Priest Lake, Idaho.  

Click HERE for the rest of Cox's article. 

Forest Service OKs mining under Cabinet Mountains Wilderness

PUBLIC LANDS — The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness — among the first areas protected by the 1964 Wilderness Act — is another step closer to potential impacts from mining.

USFS gives preliminary OK to copper, silver mine in NW Montana
The U.S. Forest Service will take public comment for 45 days on the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision approving Spokane-based Mines Management Inc.'s Montanore Mine, an underground copper and silver mine in Northwest Montana about 18 miles from Libby.

The mine is one of two separate mining proposals that would drill from outside the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness into ore bodies within the wilderness borders.

The local economy of this area was rocked when the Troy Mine shut down due to low copper prices. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality must still issue a final permit, and a group led by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is challenging mining claims. A trial in that matter scheduled in April.

See a story with links to the two mining proposals and insight on the concerns of wilderness and environmental advocates.

Colville Forest closes Mill Pond site temporarily

PUBLIC LANDS — The Colville National Forest is temporarily closing the Sullivan Lake area's Mill Pond Historic site at trails to public access while contractors are in the area with heavy equipment.

Seattle City Light is setting up drilling equipment and doing core samples for approximately three weeks on the bridge crossing the Mill Pond Dam at the Mill Pond Historic Site.  "The core samples will help determine the composition of the dam and help inform future removal actions," said Franklin Pemberton, Colville Forest spokesman.

"To ensure public and contractor safety, the historical site and the associated trails needs to be closed to public use until the project is completed," he said.  The work should be completed by mid-April.

Info: Newport Ranger Station, (509) 447-7300.

St. Joe River cabin rental deadline Feb. 27

NATIONAL FORESTS — The St. Joe Ranger District is still accepting applications for the lottery to select reservation rental dates for the popular Red Ives Cabin.

Red Ives is among the small percentage of national forest rentals NOT on the national online reservation system.

How to Apply for Red Ives Cabin Rental Lottery

  • Lottery applications can be obtained from the web at www.fs.usda.gov/ipnf and click on the Red Ives Quick Link.
  • Or pick up an application at the Forest Service Offices in St. Maries and Avery.

Lottery applications must be received or postmarked by the end of February.

  • Mail applications to: St. Joe Ranger District, ATTN: Red Ives Cabin Rental, 222 S. 7th Street Suite 1, St. Maries, ID 83861.

Successful applicants will be notified by mail by the end of March. Cabin rental dates not booked through the lottery process will be available on a “first-come” basis and will be posted on the cabin web site the first week of April.

Red Ives Cabin Information

Red Ives Cabin will open for the 2015 season on May 22 – weather permitting – through September 30. The fee is $60 per night with a maximum stay of three nights. The capacity is eight people. It is located 86 miles southeast of St. Maries, Idaho on Forest Road 218. No pets are allowed.

The cabin features 2 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and covered front porch; propane stove/oven and refrigerator; hot water, flush toilet, and shower/tub. Propane/battery lanterns are provided for lights and there is a gas log fireplace for heat.

Info: St. Joe Ranger District office in St. Maries, (208) 245-2531.

Hiker permit quotas adopted to spread out ‘Wild’ crowd on PCT

HIKING — Growing numbers of hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Mexico-to-Canada route made increasingly popular by the movie “Wild,” have led officials to take steps to alleviate traffic.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association announced on Wednesday a new permitting system that will limit to 50 the number of long-distance hikers heading north each day from San Diego County.

An online application process will allow hikers to schedule start dates and view projected hiker density on any given day.

The PCTA’s Jack Haskel says the goal is not to limit the number of hikers, but to spread them out.

The trail starts near Campo, California, and stretches 2,650 miles before ending at the Canadian border.

Haskel says since the movie came out in December, website traffic is up 300 percent.

Forest Service has summer job openings

NATIONAL FORESTS — National forests across the country, including the Colville National Forest, are still filling summer job positions.

The currently available jobs in northeastern Washington are temporary summer positions that start in the late spring or early summer and typically last until the fall, said Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton. The positions available are in Republic, Kettle Falls, Colville and Newport.

The jobs are in natural resources, including visitor information assistant, archeological assistant, forestry technician, hydrologic technician, biological science technician and range assistant. 

More info:

Forest Service sets rule for oversnow vehicles

WINTERSPORTS — Just-released news of special interest to backcountry skiers and snowmobilers alike:

The U.S. Forest Service today released the final policy for managing snowmobile and other "over-snow" vehicle use on national forests and grasslands. As directed by court order, the policy requires that roads, trails and areas where over-snow vehicle use can occur be specifically designated by local Forest Service mangers. Previously, managers had the discretion to decide whether to designate specific areas for over-snow vehicle use.

Following are details in the agency's announcement:

"The Forest Service always seeks to provide a wide range of motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunities," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "This policy maintains community input and local decision-making so that those with knowledge of local areas can decide how to best balance natural resource issues with legitimate recreational uses of national forest land."

Many forests and grasslands currently have oversnow designations—more than 40 percent of national forests where snow depths can accommodate over-snow vehicles have guidance consistent with the final policy—and the agency has directed all remaining forest supervisors where the policy applies to make the providing local guidance a priority. The policy maintains the requirement that all designations must be made with public input as well as ensure protection of natural resources, such as water and soils and wildlife, while continuing appropriate recreational opportunities for over-snow and other recreational uses. The court's order ensures that the final policy also provides consistency across all forests and grasslands by requiring designation of areas where over-snow use is allowed.

The policy, scheduled to be published on Wednesday, Jan. 28 in the Federal Register, is formalized in 30 days. The Forest Service reviewed more than 20,000 comments on the proposed guidelines, which were published in June, 2014.

The best-known use of over-snow vehicles is recreation. However, over snow vehicles are also used for other purposes such as gathering firewood and subsistence hunting. Nationally, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 200,000 miles of roads and 47,000 miles of trails that are open to motor-vehicle use. These roads and trails vary from single-track trails used by motorcycles to roads designed for high-clearance vehicles such as logging trucks.

The final policy will preserve existing decisions governing over-snow vehicle use that were made under previous authorities with public involvement; allow decisions for over-snow vehicle use to be made independently or in conjunction with decisions for other types of motor vehicle use; and local units will create over-snow vehicle use maps separate from use maps for other kinds of motor vehicles.

The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the Nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

Sportsmen rally against public land transfers

Updated with note about new Washington legislation.

PUBLIC LANDS — Sportsman's groups are organizing a voice against efforts in Western states to eliminate federal control of public land.

Lawmakers in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming — and most recently, Washington — are spending considerable money and effort in attempts to get state control of federal public lands within their borders.

Read a few recent stories on these efforts:

I've contended this movement is more about political gain and corporate greed than it is about doing what's best for the wildlife, the land and the public. State governments are much more vulnerable to succumbing to special interests than federal land managers.

Last week at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, a campaign was launched against efforts by special interests to transfer or sell America’s federal public lands.

The growing coalition of groups and businesses includes the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, National Wild Turkey Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Mystery Ranch Backpacks, Sitka Gear, First Lite, Costa, Simms Fishing Products and Sage.

The coalition supports a grassroots effort by sportsmen to urge lawmakers to reject any actions that would deprive citizens of their public lands.

Most recently, a bill has been introduced in Washington — SB 5405 — that would form a task force to look into federal land ownership in Washington, with an eye to “to study the risks, options, and benefits of transferring certain federal lands in the state to an alternative ownership.”

Within Washington are 12.7 million acres of federal land, including 9.3 million acres of national forests, 1.8 million acres of national parks, 429,000 acres of BLM ground, and 182,000 acres of national wildlife refuges.

A new report, “Locked Out: Public Lands Transfers Threaten Sportsmen’s Access,” released by the campaign, details takeover attempts in some Western states that would jeopardize public access to the rich hunting, fishing and outdoor traditions provided by the nation’s public lands.

“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the TRCP Center for Western Lands. “More than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting."

The management of America’s vast system of public lands carries an enormous price tag, and state budgets could be stretched beyond their ability should they take over their ownership, with widespread industrial development and the eventual sale of these lands to private interests being the expected result, the campaign outlines. "If privatized, millions of acres of the nation’s most valuable lands and waters would be closed to public access, and an American birthright would be lost."  

Forest Service chief honors Cabinets recreation staffer

PUBLIC LANDS — A Western Montana man and former wilderness ranger recently received a national award for tending to the recreation programs in the Cabinet Mountains and wilderness area.

Joel Sather, recreation technician on the Cabinet Ranger District, traveled recently with his wife Carmin to Washington, D.C., to accept a Chief’s Award from US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Sather, who has worked for the Forest Service for 25 years, primarily on the Kootenai National Forest, was one of only 14 Forest Service employees nationwide to win the Chief’s Award for 2014.

Sather was presented his award for his efforts in partnership, volunteers and outdoor education. He was lauded for his work on motorized recreation trails, getting kids involved in stewardship and wilderness investigation, his work on Star Peak Historic Trail #999, and coordinating volunteer efforts from diverse groups.

In his thank-you speech, Sather got a laugh from the audience when he admitted to not knowing quite yet which way was north in D.C., and that he was more comfortable in a pair of boots and a backpack with a cross-cut saw on his shoulder.

“I’m proud to be able to represent the recreation program on the Cabinet Ranger District and the Kootenai National Forest as a whole,” he said in short remarks. “In regards to this award, I was simply doing my job. A huge ‘thank you’ goes out to the Cabinet Ranger District wilderness and trail crew, and the volunteers and partners who do a tremendous amount of great work for us, including Cabinet Ridge Riders, Cabinet Resource Group, Cabinet Backcountry Horsemen and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.”

“Joel certainly deserves the honor,” said Friends of Scotchman Peaks Program Coordinator Sandy Compton. “He’s a great partner. His energy and commitment to his job have been a huge catalyst for helping his volunteer partners get things done, not only on his district but on adjoining districts as well.”

Sather, who grew up in Lincoln County and graduated from Libby High School, was the wilderness ranger in the western half of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness for six seasons in the late 1990s. He accepted the recreation technician job on the Cabinet District in 2010. He and his wife Carmin have two children and live in Noxon.

Time to apply for Forest Service seasonal jobs

OUTDOORS — The U.S. Forest Service is employing a new centralized hiring process for temporary or seasonal jobs in national forests throughout Oregon and Washington. 

The new phased process started last week.  The deadline to get applications turned in is shorter than in the past.

The new process has three phases:

  • Phase 1 hiring includes all temporary fire-related jobs. The time period for candidates to submit applications for all fire-related temporary jobs is January 6-12, 2015.  Apply on usajobs.gov.
  • Phase 2 involves all non-fire related temporary positions not addressed in Phase 1.  Candidates will need to submit applications for non-fire related temporary jobs on February 4-10, 2015.  Apply on usajobs.gov.
  • Phase 3 is the “catch all” period, for positions that were not filled during phase 1 or phase 2.  This phase is intended to fill positions that were not filled during the first two phases of the process.

Lists of all the temporary fire-related jobs and other summer jobs that need to be filled this summer are posted on the Forest Service Albuquerque Service Center website.  A variety of positions will be available in our other programs as well, including range, hydrology, soils, fisheries, timber and archaeology. 

“The phased approach this year will improve efficiencies in the review and selection process for thousands of temporary positions to be filled throughout Oregon and Washington this year,” said Colville National Forest Administrative Officer, Jennifer Knutson.

“Working for the Colville National Forest is a rewarding experience. Our employees take great pride in managing our public lands in a way that benefits our local communities,” Knutson added.

Questions? ContactForest Service Human Resource Management Contact Center at 877-372-7248, ext. 2, or at the My Hiring Question email inbox.

Centralized temporary firefighter hiring has been used at Forest Service offices in California, Arizona and New Mexico for the past few years

Simpson to Forest Service: Don’t restrict news-gathering, observe 1st Amendment in wilderness

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson has sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell expressing strong concerns about proposed rules for commercial filming in wilderness areas, asking the Forest Service to make sure the final rule doesn’t place an undue burden on journalists, TV programs, outfitters and guides and other media-related activities that have traditionally enjoyed access to wilderness areas for filming or photography.

“These are people who appreciate wilderness, want to share its values with others, or may want to use their photographs or videos to help promote their business. These are not individuals who are looking to film feature length action movies that would do harm to wilderness areas or involve multiple cameras with large crews and extensive sets,” Simpson wrote.

He also raised First Amendment concerns about the proposed rule, saying it suggests the Forest Service could restrict filming or photography based on content. You can read Simpson’s full letter here. He notes Tidwell’s recent comments, suggesting the rule will be modified so it doesn’t restrict news-gathering. “I am hopeful the final rule will reflect your reasonable interpretation and clearly articulate that legitimate news gathering activities will not require permits in the future,” the 2nd District GOP congressman wrote.

Access changes at Yocum Lake

FISHING — Motor vehicle access to Yocum Lake from Forest Service Road 1900096 (Coachman Road) will be closed beginning Tuesday in an effort to curb the abuses to the land and lake in recent years.

Vehicle access to Yocum lake will still be available via the Yocum Lake County Road on the south end of the lake (see map).

This decision to close the road was made in 2010 as a part of the Hanlon Vegetation Environmental Assessment.

According to the Colville National Forest release:

The purpose of the vehicle access closure is to reduce sediment input and human waste issues at Yocum Lake.  Approximately a half-mile of the eastern end of Forest Road 190096 (known as Coachman Road) will be obliterated and no longer accessible by vehicle on the north end of the lake.  Access to Yocum Lake and the boat launch on the south end of the lake will still be accessible via the county road.

Dispersed campsites on the west and north end of the lake are still available and are approximately a half-mile walk from the south end of the lake. 

Info: Newport-Sullivan Lake Ranger District, Newport Office, (509) 447-7300.

Plan ahead for free entry to federal lands Nov. 9-11

PUBLIC LANDS — Federal and state land managers offer fee-free entry days to parks, forests, U.S. Bureau of Land management lands, refuges and other national interest lands where fees are charged on certain holidays scattered through the year.

  • The last big freebie of the year is Nov. 8-11 — Veterans Day Weekend — with free entry to virtually all the federal public lands.  NOTE: National Parks are offering free entry only on Nov. 11.
  • Washington State Parks will waive the Discover Pass requirement on Nov. 11.

The fee waivers do not cover expanded amenity or user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours.

Washout temporarily closes Beauty Creek Road

PUBLIC LANDS — Recent rains and flooding have caused a washout on Forest Road 438, also known as the Beauty Creek Road.  The route is temporarily closed while Idaho Panhandle National Forests crews repair the damage between mile marker 1 and mile marker 4.4.

Flood damage has made the road impassable, but an alternate route accessing the upper reaches of Beauty Creek is available through Forest Road 439, near Mount Coeur d’Alene.

Barriers and road closure signs are posted at the entrance to FR 438.

Info: Coeur ‘d Alene River Ranger District,  (208) 664-2318.