Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition gaining traction in Northwest Montana

Submitted by Sandy Compton
For the Kootenai For-est Stakeholders Coalition (KFSC), it’s been a long, winding, and sometimes bumpy road. There are still curves ahead, but the way is getting wider and smoother, paved by sup-port from diverse and sometimes surprising sources. In the past few months, the Coalition has gained the support of county commissions in both Lincoln and Sanders County, Montana, in which the majority of the Koote-nai National Forest (KNF) lies. The Lincoln County Commission signed a Memorandum of Agree-ment with KVSC in late November of 2017, and the Sanders County Com-mission voted unanimous-ly on January 9 to support the Coalition’s forest man-agement guidelines.
Tony Cox, commission-er for Sanders County Dis-trict 3 — which contains most of the KNF land in the county — says of the commission’s endorse-ment, “It seems like we needed to change how we‘ve been doing things. Everybody has different wants and needs, and the collaboration method is where people can come together and compromise and everybody get a piece of the pie.”
“It was great to have the County Commission-ers sign on,” said Doug Ferrell of Trout Creek, who is on the board of KVSC. “It’s a remarkable achievement. The idea that people with opposing interests can sit down and work together with re-spect and appreciation for each other is something a great many people sup-port. KFSC’s focus on lis-tening and problem solv-ing has resulted in a strong package of agree-ments that is especially valuable and meaningful today.”
The process to reach the agreement began over twelve years ago when a group of individuals with mixed personal and eco-nomic interests in the fu-ture of the KNF began dis-cussing what might be done by working together instead of what was then a familiar pattern of plans derailed by conflict and litigation. It wasn’t easy — KFSC executive board member Tim Daugherty of Idaho Forest Group lik-ened it to “a ten-year-long root canal” — but the KFSC Common Ground committee finally — in December of 2015 — came to consensus on a number of economic and cultural issues concerning the future of the local landscape, including tim-ber, restoration, wilder-ness, recreation, and eco-nomic and ecosystem sus-tainability.
Amy Robinson, Mon-tana Wilderness Associa-tion (MWA) Northwest Montana Field Director has been involved in the Coalition for five years and holds a seat on the Common Ground Commit-tee. “I feel very fortunate to be involved in this whole process,” she says, “I’ve seen continuous mo-mentum and progress, particularly in the Wilder-ness component.”
KFSC might be called the poster child for multi-use collaboration. The list of business and organiza-tional supporters ranges from the Troy and Ten Lakes Snowmobile Clubs to Thompson River Lum-ber and Idaho Forest Group to Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilder-ness and MWA.
The document the KFSC Common Ground Committee came up with (available to read at www.kootenaifuture.org) covers a spectrum of sub-jects ranging from perma-nent motorized trails to new Wilderness to lynx and grizzly bear habitat to a sustainable timber har-vest on the Kootenai — recommended at between 70 and 90 million board feet per year. This is far short of the hay-day har-vests of the 1960s and 70s but significantly more than has been harvested recently.
“The timber compo-nent is pretty important,” said Cox, “because county road budgets depend a lot on harvest from federal lands.”
The harvest volume agreed upon is seen as sustainable and healthy by timber companies and conservation groups as well, and includes recom-mendations for treat-ments that benefit the local economy, recreation, ecology, hunting and non-game wildlife.
Support has been building in Lincoln County for some time, and in-cludes several dozen civic organizations and entities; as well as businesses like Western Building Center, the Cabinet Mountain Brewery and Kootenai River Outfitters; and the personal support of Coun-ty Commissioner Mark Peck and State Senator Chas Vincent, who also served on the Common Ground Committee. In Sanders County, the agreement has earned supporters that include the Sanders County Com-munity Development Cor-poration, Thompson Falls Main Street, Big Eddy’s Deck Bar, the Sanders County Ledger, Inland Empire Builders and Thompson River Lumber.
Shawn Morgan, forest-er for Thompson River Lumber, became involved in the KFSC about four years ago. “This is a step forward,” he said, “and any step in the right direc-tion is helpful. I think it will keep evolving and changing, and that’s good. We have to keep the ball moving.”
Ferrell began attend-ing Coalition meetings to speak up for Wilderness. He later joined the KFSC board, though he was skeptical about something coming out of it without having to give up a lot. “There was a lot of energy spent hammering out the timber component and we eventually came up with some solid agreements on Wilderness recommenda-tions as well,” he recalls, “so I think the process was really worthwhile in terms of reaching compro-mises that are a net gain for all involved. I think most members of the coa-lition would agree that it is an honor to be part of this group, even though the work has sometimes been difficult and time consuming.”
To learn more about the Coalition, visit www.kootenaifuture.org