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N. Idaho meetings set to discuss plan for Panhandle National Forests

The U.S. Forest Service plans to hold a series of public meetings in northern Idaho to discuss a draft management plan that will guide decisions for the Panhandle National Forests for the next 10 to 15 years.

Forest Supervisor Mary Farnsworth tells The Spokesman-Review that the plan includes a mix of recreational opportunities and timber sales along with forest restoration and healthy watersheds.

Farnsworth said 40 percent of the 2.5-million-acre forest is within wildland-urban interface areas. That means private residences, municipal watersheds, power lines and other infrastructure that’s adjacent to the forest boundary.

The area has added 100,000 residents since 1987, with many choosing to live along scenic corridors and lakes next to the forest.

“You look at real estate ads these days. They say, ‘Adjacent to national forest lands.’ That’s a selling point for people,” said Farnsworth.

For forest officials, the increasing human population has ramifications when it comes to fighting wildfires, managing insect outbreaks and planning for recreational use.

“It’s the community’s backyard,” said Linda Clark, a Forest Service planner. “People love their national forest. Everyone has their desire of what the national forest should do for them.”

Forest officials also say the expanding human population affects migrating wildlife, and part of the plan includes goals for keeping people and grizzly bears apart by closing or reducing motorized use in core grizzly areas.

The meetings are set for Jan. 10 in Coeur d’Alene, Jan. 11 in St. Maries, Jan 12 in Smelterville, Jan. 17 in Bonners Ferry, Jan. 19 in Priest Lake, and Jan. 23 in Sandpoint.

Written comments will be accepted for 90 days. Farnsworth said forest officials hope to adopt a new plan by the end of 2012.

“It’s our contract with the public,” said Farnsworth. “It’s how we will manage the public’s lands into the future.”

Some details of the plan include projected annual timber sales of 45 million to 50 million board feet, similar to current harvest levels.

The plan also includes 160,000 acres listed as proposed wilderness areas in case a future Congress opts to designate the land as wilderness. Another 21,400 acres are designated as primitive lands, where timber sales are prohibited, but motorized use and mountain bikes are allowed.

“People want wild lands that they can access,” said Jason Kirchner, a Forest Service spokesman.

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