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No merger of forests planned

Clearwater, Nez Perce being studied

Associated Press

LEWISTON – The U.S. Forest Service is working on ways to make oversight and management of the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests more efficient, but regional forester Tom Tidwell says the two forests won’t be merged into one unit in the near future.

In 2011 the forests will combine budget processes and staffs, but Tidwell says they’ll remain separate for now.

The two forests have been under combined leadership since summer 2008. Tom Reilly serves as supervisor of both, but is set to retire in July.

Tidwell, who is stationed in Missoula, said he hasn’t decided if Reilly will be replaced with one supervisor who oversees both forests or two supervisors, one for each forest.

“There is more to learn and more for us to explore on how the two units can work together,” he said. “We are not in a position to make the decision. We will need to make the decision on Tom Reilly’s retirement, how we will be filling that job, whether we want to continue exploring the concept of shared leadership or not.”

The agency is experimenting with ways the two forests can work together to become more efficient and that means they will increasingly have one person oversee different programs in both units. Doing so could mean fewer people near the top of the agency’s pay scale and perhaps more money for ground personnel.

During a recent interview, Reilly said the two forests are clearly moving toward consolidation.

“Following the experimental thread, I think it’s leading ultimately to some sort of consolidation and I just don’t think the regional forester is ready to come out and say it yet,” Reilly said.

A combined Clearwater and Nez Perce national forest would stretch 5 million acres from the Idaho-Montana state line to the Snake River in Hells Canyon and from the Salmon River to the divide between the St. Joe and North Fork of the Clearwater River basins.

Both forests lease the buildings where their headquarters are located. Breaking either lease would cost the agency money, particularly in Grangeville where the Nez Perce forest moved into a new leased building last year.

“The number of employees and the size (of the forests) and the lease agreements we have in place, that is one thing we need to think about to make some decision to position ourselves five and 10 years from now when the lease agreements come up,” Tidwell said. He said both supervisor offices are needed to house current employees.

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