- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

CLARK FORK, Idaho (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comments on a plan to restore whitebark pine in the Lightning Creek drainage in northern Idaho.

The plan includes prescribed burns and thinning on about 3,500 acres. Sandpoint District Ranger Erik Walker said 88 percent of the work is within roadless areas and none of the timber cut there will be sold or removed.

Phil Hough of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness said the project is a good idea because of the problems faced by whitebark pine in the area.

“It’s had a great loss in its range throughout the West,” Hough told the Bonner County Daily Bee (http://bit.ly/13zt7Qc ). “It’s a defining species of the higher elevations of the Northern Rocky Mountains.”

Whitebark pine nuts are an important food for threatened grizzly bears and other animals, but the tree is in decline due in part to blister rust.

The federal government designated in 2011 that protections for the whitebark pine tree were warranted, but precluded by other priorities.

A federal judge in April ruled against conservationists who sought to force the government to protect the high-elevation pine tree. The judge in the ruling said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation leaves species such as the pine tree in limbo, but declined to overturn the government finding, saying it’s up to Congress to allocate enough money to pay for protections.

The restoration project in northern Idaho is a collaboration between the Forest Service and National Forest Foundation called the Treasured Landscapes program.

Comments on the restoration plan can be made through Jan. 16.

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Information from: Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee, http://www.bonnercountydailybee.com

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