Montana, Idaho Forest Projects to Receive Money

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Forest restoration projects in Montana and Idaho for the second year will receive money under a federal restoration program meant to unite groups such as loggers and conservationists, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

Officials said Montana’s 1.5-million-acre Southwestern Crown of the Continent project will receive $3.5 million and Idaho’s 1.4-million-acre Clearwater Basin project will receive $3.4 million.

“There’s going to be a lot of good work done in the forest, and a lot of jobs created because of this,” said Bill Higgins of the Idaho Forest Group.

The 2011 federal budget passed in April included $25 million for 10 forest projects. Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin in Montana said Forest Service officials late last week informed the projects in Montana and Idaho how much of that money they would receive.

“This program is supported all the way from the chief (of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell) down to the forests, and that’s a pretty exciting thing,” Austin told the Missoulian. “It’s the first time I’ve been involved where we’re able to concentrate a lot of restoration money in one place — enough to make a difference.”

In Montana, the project includes the Blackfoot, Clearwater and Swan River watersheds. In Idaho, the project includes the Clearwater and Nez Perce national forests, on Nez Perce tribal lands, and in Idaho and Clearwater counties.

The $25 million is for the U.S. Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program signed into law in 2009. In the first year, the program received $10 million for the 10 projects.

The type of work done in the forests will vary.

“There will be some of everything, depending on the status of the forest we’re working in,” Austin said. “Much of the work is thinning from below, taking out smaller trees and undergrowth for biomass and chips, but there will also be some medium trees removed as well for lumber. The intent of the act was to provide ecological restoration, decrease hazardous fuels and fire suppression costs, and improve local economic conditions.”

The Montana project also includes treating 10,000 acres of weeds, improving 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat, restoring 30 miles of streams, and improving 350 miles of roads and trails.

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