Stimulus Funding Fuels Forest Work

By Beacon Staff

In an effort to boost Montana’s sagging wood products and logging industries, a state agency announced early this month it was dedicating nearly $5 million of federal stimulus money toward forest restoration and fuels reduction work.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation started calling for proposals from companies in high-unemployment counties, including Flathead County.

It’s estimated that up to 8,000 acres will receive thinning, commercial harvest and brush disposal as part of the program. Some projects could be funded before the end of the month.

“We have a commitment from the Forest Service and we are moving forward in soliciting projects so that as soon as we get the money, we can get it out the door,” said Governor Brian Schweitzer in a press release from DNRC. “It comes not a moment too soon for many Montana loggers, contractors and mills who continue to struggle under the weight of the collapsed housing market and low demand for wood products.”

The funding is not part of the approximately $800 million in stimulus funding already allocated to Montana and distributed by the state Legislature earlier this year. Instead, the DNRC competed for stimulus grants through the U.S. Forest Service, receiving several.

Most of the proposed work will be done within the wildland-urban interface as designated by local county governments. The projects are largely expected to be collaborative, involving multiple public and private landowners, contractors and mills.

“In an effort to get money released as soon as possible, we will have two funding cycles,” DNRC Director Mary Sexton said.

The agency will evaluate all proposals submitted by June 17 in the early cycle for up to half of the available funding. All unfunded projects plus those received by the final July 10 deadline will be considered during the final funding cycle, Sexton said. The funds should be completely awarded by Aug. 1.

“Other funding specifically for the Flathead is on its way as well,” Sexton said.

Flathead County will receive $987,000 for a county stewardship project that includes urban forestry planting and fuels and restoration projects, and $506,000 for fuels reduction near Marion, Whitefish and Echo and Blaine Lakes. Sexton said that funding is expected July 1, enabling ground work possibly as early as mid-July.

Complete details on the project, title “Jump Start 2,” are available on the DNRC Web site at www.dnrc.mt.gov or by contacting Roger Ziesak with DNRC at (406) 542-4338.

There was some more good news for area loggers and contractors this month when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that more than $228 million in stimulus funds would be used to improve U.S. Forest Service land. Of that, $13.3 million is heading to the Flathead National Forest, according to Forest Supervisor Cathy Barbouletos.

“We are pleased to be able to complete some deferred maintenance and improvements across the forest and facilitate this funding in Flathead County and Northwest Montana,” Barbouletos said in a prepared statement.

Projects include gravel resurfacing, asphalt treatments, culvert replacements, improvements at trailheads, reconstruction of four bridges across the forest and more.

Anyone seeking information about contracting with the federal government on these and other projects can visit www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead and click on “A Guide to Doing Business with the Forest Service.”

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