- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

SUPERIOR, Mont. (AP) - They’re frustrated and disgruntled here in Mineral County, and they’re not big fans of the United States Forest Service.

Paltry timber sales in a hurting county in which more than four of every five acres is controlled by the Forest Service are a big part of the reason, a roomful of seething locals told Tim Garcia, who was finishing his first week on the job as the new supervisor of the Lolo National Forest.

“The dollars are there. How can we make this work?” asked Kevin Chamberlain, the Mineral County extension agent. “Show us how. We don’t speak your language. We’re not part of your big green machine.”

Garcia was in town Friday at the invitation of the county commission and the Mineral County Resource Advisory Group, or McGRAG. He was accompanied by Superior District Ranger Tawnya Brummett and his new boss, Region 1 Forester Faye Krueger, who took part in a similar meeting in September with Garcia’s predecessor, Debbie Austin.

A crowd of 75 joined them, spilling out of a commissioners’ meeting room designed to hold 49.

“This is a jump off the high dive, but you know what? It’s what my job is. It’s my job to spend time with you all and to understand what’s going on, so I can help the ranger’s staff out here understand how to prioritize resources,” said Garcia, who most recently worked in Washington, D.C., as a legislative affairs specialist, working on fire management and the national recreation program.

“It’s not that we don’t have the desire or the interest,” he added. “It’s a capacity issue, and we’re making the best resource allocations and prioritizations based on what we think can get accomplished.”

The major point of contention in these parts is the $22 million Cedar-Thom project. It’s an integrated forest restoration project proposed in 2009 for the Cedar Creek and Thompson Creek drainages south of Superior.

“We’re still waiting for them to render a decision and get something going,” County Commissioner Roman Zylawy told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1nhdkud).

Krueger said Cedar-Thom is undergoing a fisheries review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and she has committed a biologist at the regional office to help with that. The Forest Service listed Cedar Creek as a priority bull trout watershed. If the project clears that hurdle, it will next go through the agency’s objections process.

Krueger chafed at Tricon Timber owner Ken Verley’s characterization of the process as a stalemate and that the Forest Service operates with a “fear factor” of litigation.

Cedar-Thom is on her priority list, Krueger said, “but we do have to go into a decision understanding there will be challenges in the courts. It doesn’t scare us, but it prepares us, and we want to be prepared.”

“When was the last time we got litigated in Mineral County?” asked Verley, who took part in the conversation via speaker phone from St. Regis because of a family emergency.

“We’ve had two timber sales where we’ve had support from the Sierra Club as long as Tricon Timber bought the sale,” he said. “We work well with the environmental groups. We’d like to follow the collaboration process and we’d like to move forward, but the people on the ground need support from you folks at the top. They don’t want to hear rhetoric. I don’t want to hear rhetoric.”

Zylawy said it doesn’t sit well with him that the Forest Service decided against harvesting the remnants of the West Mullan wildfire that had downtown Superior on edge last summer.

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