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Idaho, Clearwater counties file suit over forest travel plan

Idaho and Clearwater counties have filed a federal lawsuit over a Clearwater National Forest travel plan that closed off 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles, contending the Forest Service didn't adequately consult with local officials when they enacted the plan last year. “We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bA6PyL). “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the Associated Press.

Caldwell family sues Forest Service after falling tree at remote campsite injured their young son

A Caldwell family is suing the U.S. Forest Service for more than $1 million, the AP reports, after a large dead tree at a remote campsite fell and injured their then-6-year-old son during a camping trip in 2010. A wind gust blew down the dead tree in the Boise National Forest; the family contends the Forest Service was negligent because it didn’t remove the dead tree and it posed a hazard at the campsite. You can read the AP’s full report here.

NW Maps closes its store in Spokane Valley, focusing only on online sales

Northwest Maps, which for the past several years was Spokane's primary option for  buying topo and recreation maps, has shifted to an online- and phone-only business, said owner Steve Mitrovich.

In addition to closing down its Spokane Valley store, the Mitroviches now are only selling their own published atlases and marketing maps for this area. They've sold all their topo and recreational maps to Metsker Maps of Seattle.

Steve Mitrovich said the store closed on July 1. The reason?  Recreational map purchases continued to dwindle and the number of maps and map books sold didn't justify running the business, he said.

The company will take phone orders and orders placed through its website www.nwmaps.com. The business phone number is509 455-6981.

REI still sells some physical topo and recreation maps, Mitrovich said.

As the web has continued to gain online presence, many recreationists are also ordering and printing maps directly from sites such as USGS.gov and the Forest Service online map service.

Win a forest photo contest without leaving town

FORESTS — The U.S. Forest Service has announced its My Neighborhood Forest photo contest, celebrating America’s urban and community forests.

The Grand Prize winner will receive $200 in outdoor gear courtesy of the National Forest Foundation.

The contest, which runs through July 22, seeks to highlight the natural beauty that spring and summer bring to U.S. neighborhoods, communities and cities, as well as the crucial role of trees in the places we call home.

Visit Challenge.gov for more details on the prizes and contest rules.

N. Idaho locals hammer feds on proposed caribou habitat

PUBLIC LANDS — Some North Idahol residents are upset by a proposal to designate an area half the size of Rhode Island in a remote part of the Panhandle and Washington as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou.

They blasted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a meeting on Tuesday, saying the federal plans amounted to a land grab that would devastate the local economy, according to an Associated Press story by Nicholas K. Geranios.

But federal officials said the designation was required to help save the last remaining caribou herd in the Lower 48 states. They said the average person should not be impacted by a critical habitat designation.

That didn’t satisfy many of the estimated 200 people who showed up at the so-called “coordination” meeting requested by the Bonner County commissioners, who are seeking to provide input to federal regulators.

“Our goal in this coordination is to stop this closure,” county Commissioner Cornel Rasor admitted.

Read on for details from the AP report.

N. Idaho officials to meet with feds about caribou

ENDANGERED SPECIES —  Bonner County commissioners to meet with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials later this month with the goal of altering the federal agency’s plan to protect habitat for woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains.

The meeting is set for Jan. 24 at the Inn at Priest Lake in Coolin.

Commissioners are concerned the plan to designate as critical habitat nearly 600 square miles of land in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington will harm the local economy by restricting logging, snowmobiling and forest access, according to an Associated Press report.

Fish and Wildlife announced the plan in November after lawsuits by environmental groups. The agency estimates the woodland caribou herd in the region has dwindled to less than 50, with occasional sightings.

“For three caribou, we’re going to tie up over 375,000 acres?” Commissioner Mike Nielsen told the Bonner County Daily Bee, indicating that he prefers to ignore the concept of trying to protect critical habitat for a recovering species.

 “That’s over a hundred thousand acres per caribou that people can't use,” he added in a serious overstatement or outright lie. 

People would continue to be welcome to visit the high caribou habitat, although motorized vehicles would be restricted in some areas.

There are issues worth discussion in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, but spewing propaganda cheapens the appeal.

Bonner County mulls options to challenge Selkirk caribou habitat protection

ENDANGERED SPECIES — Bonner County commissioners may challenge a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to designated 375,562 acres as critical habitat for endangered woodland caribou in the southern Selkirk Mountains.

The issue is on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, when the commissioners may discuss invoking a federal rule that requires agencies to coordinate with local officials on land use matters, according to a report in the Sandpoint Daily Bee on Friday.

“We have a dog in this fight and we have tools that have never been used before,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor told the newspaper.

The FWS estimates about 45 woodland caribou exist in the southern Selkirks.

The proposal to protect habitat is chilling to businesses at Priest Lake, where residents a few years ago were rocked by Forest Service restrictions on snowmobile entry into the Selkirk caribou recovery zone.

Bonner County Commissioners already have established a Property Rights Council that is challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency standards on developing wetlands around Priest Lake, as detailed in this report by the Boise Weekly

95,000 Respond To Mountain Jesus

In the past month, Flathead National Forest officials estimate they've received more than 95,000 comments from the public about whether the statue of Jesus Christ on Big Mountain should be removed. The volume of comments became so unwieldy that Forest Service supervisors assigned a special team to organize, filter and read the comments, the majority of which were sent by email from across the United States. “It's a very divisive issue, and a very emotional issue,” Derek Milner, who is leading the public review project for the Flathead National Forest, said. “People are either adamantly in favor or adamantly opposed. There really is no middle ground”/Tristan Scott, Missoulian. More here. (AP file photo) H/T: Orbusmax

Question: Do you have a strong reaction to this controversy, one way or the other?

Atheists Take Credit For Statue Ruling

A national atheist organization took credit Thursday for persuading the U.S. Forest Service to deny a special use permit that for decades has allowed a statue of Jesus Christ to occupy a bite of public land on Big Mountain. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which works to keep religion out of government, said the land lease was “unconstitutional” because religious symbolism cannot legally exist on federal property. The group claimed responsibility for a recent Forest Service decision that could lead to the statue's removal from a small swatch of Flathead National Forest land. The statue has been perched at the top of Whitefish Mountain Resort's Chair 2 since 1955, and was installed by a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus as a memorial to veterans of World War II, who encountered religious shrines in the mountains abroad/Tristan Scott, Missoulian. More here. (Wikipedia illustration of Jesus the Good Shepherd)

Question: Do you agree with USFS decision to remove that long-standing statue of Jesus Christ from Whitefish's Big Mountain ski area?

Climate change could slash 50 percent of native cutthroat trout habitat

FISHING — Native cutthroat trout are likely to feel the heat from climate change.

A new study shows a changing climate could reduce suitable trout habitat in the western U.S. by about 50 percent over the next 70 years, with some trout species experiencing greater declines than others.

The results were reported by a team of 11 scientists from Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Colorado State University, the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group.

The study, published today in the peer-reviewed science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, predicts native cutthroat throughout the West could decline by as much as 58 percent, while introduced brook trout could decline by as much as 77 percent.   Rainbow and brown trout populations, according to the study, would also decline by an estimated 35 percent and 48 percent respectively. (Read the study report.)

The study notes that the decline of cutthroat trout is “of particular significance,” because cutthroats are the only trout native to much of the West and a keystone species in the Rocky Mountain ecosystem.

Read on for reaction from Trout Unlimited, and some reason for hope.

New planning rules proposed for national forests

PUBLIC LANDS — The U.S. Forest Service unveiled its proposed Forest Planning Rule today which would establish a new national framework to develop land management plans that protect water and wildlife.

The details are still being analyized, but the proposal comes after 40 public meetings and roundtables across the country that drew more than 3,000 participants. More than 26,000 comments were filed on the notice of intent to issue a new planning rule.

Read on for highlights of the proposal from the Forest Service press release. More public meetings are planned starting in March.

 

New wilderness filming rules generate debate

The Forest Service has issued new temporary guidelines on filming in wilderness areas under its jurisdiction, but they’re kicking off even more controversy in a debate that began when Idaho Public TV was first refused permission to film a student conservation project in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, then granted permission after Gov. Butch Otter and Congressman Mike Simpson complained. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Daily News: Otter Right In This Fight

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s frequent spats with federal agencies are often misguided. But his latest dustup is spot on. Otter has taken exception to a Salmon-Challis National Forest official’s decision to deny an Idaho Public Television request to send a lone cameraman into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area for educational-filming purposes. Specifially, IPTV wants to film about 15 participants in a Student Conservation Association program meant to train future land managers, according to an Associated Press report. The footage would be featured in an “Outdoor Idaho” program/Doug Bauer, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. More here. (SR File Photo: Otter at Spokane Tea Party rally April 15)

Question: Do you think Gov. Butch Otter is right on or off-the-wall re: most of his dust-ups with the federal government?

USFS Blocks IPTV From Forest Shoot

I was unpleasantly surprise this morning to read on the front page of the Idaho Statesman that the Forest Service denied a request by Idaho Public Television to film a crew of students doing stewardship work in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The Forest Service believed the request was “commercial” in nature because IPTV sells copies of its programs on compact discs. But IPTV sales strictly cover operating costs. As a state agency, IPTV is prohibited from generating profits. That aside, IPTV plays a critical educational and informational role in communicating the values of wilderness to Idahoans/Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League. More here.

Question: Do you agree with the USFS to block IPTV from film students doing stewardship work in Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness?