|May 8, 2014
Op-Ed: A Local Conservation Solution
By Jim Simpson
Chairman, Lake County Conservation District
The Lake County Conservation (LCCD) has created a model that could lead to the establishment of a 95,000 acre conservation forest made up of the non-wilderness, non-protected Federal lands in Lake County that are currently managed by the Forest Service. LCCD is trying to accomplish two objectives, reduce forest fuels and fund conservation projects in Lake County.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Congress put in place a number of laws that change the way the Forest Service managed federal lands. In about 1990, these changes began to take effect, and since that time the volume of fuel on federal lands has increased. Today, when fires occur on the federal lands in the west, they are often large and very hot. The size and intensity of these fires commonly lead to damaged forest soils, mass erosion and natural occurring pollutants washed into streams and lakes. The LCCD would like to take responsibility for managing the forest fuels on federal lands in Lake County.
Taxpayer dollars to do conservation work are sporadic and small when available. The LCCD proposes to proactively manage the lands in question and sell valuable forest products. After all costs of management and harvesting are paid for, the LCCD should realize an average profit of $300,000 per year. This stream of locally grown, renewable resource dollars would be used for projects like, septic tank and drain field upgrades, central waste water treatment plant upgrades, dust control on dirt roads and improved equipment and technology for agriculture producers so water and fertilizer is applied at the right time in the right amounts.
Key aspects of the model that LCCD has created are:
• The lands would be managed by the State of Montana Forestry department, using the same laws, rules and regulations that apply to State of Montana forest lands.
• The Federal Government would transfer responsibility for managing these lands to LCCD for a period of 100 years.
• The proceeds from the sale of harvested forest products would pay for the forest management services provided by the State of Montana, for tree planting, tree thinning, forest road management and fuels reduction projects.
• After all harvesting and fuels reduction costs have been paid, the net revenue would be invested in conservation projects in Lake County.
The LCCD was awarded two State of Montana grants that will allow the conservation district to explain the study and the model that has been created. Four open house meetings will be held between May and July, one each in St. Ignatius, Polson, Condon and Swan Lake. Those attending will be able to fill out a survey. The survey will ask those attending to record their level of support, feelings about the study and other pertinent thoughts. Additionally, two LCCD Supervisors will make themselves available for presentations to any Lake County group wishing to learn more and weigh in.
After the results of the surveys have been compiled, the Lake County Conservation Board of Supervisors will determine the next steps. On one end, the Board might decide to discontinue the study. On the other end, the Board might ask the Montana Congressional delegation for support in drafting a bill to be presented to Congress There are other, undetermined steps in between that may be defined and taken.
The Montana legislature formed the frame work for conservation districts in 1939. The LCCD takes its role as conservators of the natural resources of Lake County very seriously. The opportunity to study the establishment of a conservation forest in Lake County is an attempt to fulfill our legislated mandate. We believe that if we take care of our natural resources, our natural resources will take care of us. The establishment of a conservation forest in Lake County will allow us to fulfill this belief.
For more information click here and then click on the “Swan Resource Management Study” link.