Resource Coalition talks about habitat improvement efforts

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It was a full house on Tuesday, Dec. 4 as members of the Mineral County Resource Coalition held their monthly meeting. Representatives from government agencies, wildlife conservation organizations, business owners and community leaders met to discuss ongoing, as well as new projects and programs facing Mineral County.

One big project is the application for a Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, or WHIP. Mineral County Weed District volunteer Bert Lindler is leading the charge in writing the grant, which is due Dec. 15. The request is for approximately half-a-million dollars for the Fish Creek area.

“The goal is to try and restore some portion of the native system,” Lindler told the group. “This is so we aren’t facing the same problems 10 years from now that we are facing today.”

Popular with trout anglers, Fish Creek is also critical habitat for elk, mule and white-tailed deer as well as other wildlife. The Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area and state park covers more than 40,000 acres and has a significant noxious weed problem, especially spotted knapweed. Fish, Wildlife & Parks is working with a variety of partners on the project, including the Mineral County Extension weed program; the Forest Service; DNRC; and landowners.

Matching funds are needed for the project and different county, state and federal agencies have stepped up to help. That includes $40,000 from Fish, Wildlife & Parks Habitat Montana funds. Instead of herbicides, the grant proposal is to use reseeding and bugs to restore the area to its native habitat.

“Reseeding, and bugs last longer than herbicide treatments, if that’s able to change the direction of the landscape that area is heading in, it would be a meaningful change,” said Lindler. The Coalition agreed to submit a letter of support to the grant proposal.

Also at the meeting, Tony Schoonen, chief of staff for the Boone and Crockett Club, gave a brief history of the club along with an overview of their policy agenda issues. That includes enhancing and improving long-term land management; access issues related to federal lands; healthy forests; wildlife conservation; and improving relationships between government entities and the private sector. He also told the group that Boone and Crockett would be interested in developing a relationship with the coalition regarding these issues.

Forest Service District Rangers Carol Johnson and Ann Hadlow gave updates on projects in their areas. Hadlow has been the acting District Ranger since last summer, and announced that they hired a new ranger for the 9-Mile District, Eric Thomas. He will begin his new position on Jan. 3.

Johnson announced that the recreational subcommittee meeting scheduled for Dec. 5 had to be rescheduled since all federal offices would be closed to honor the death of President George H.W. Bush. That meeting will now be held on Jan. 30. There was also a discussion regarding signs and gates damaged during the Sunrise Fire in 2017. Emergency funds have been received to replace them and there was a suggestion to have Superior High School students make the signs since they have equipment to do that type of work. Johnson said as long as they could meet state specs, it would be considered.

AnotheR project, cruzanne, which is a fuel-reduction project east of Saltese, is being developed. There will be an open house planning and informational meeting for the public on Jan. 10 at Savanac from 3 to 6 p.m. Johnson also announced the retirement of several Forest Service employees which will take place between December and early spring, including Laurie Lewis, Wanda Smith and Deb Job. She said these positions are critical to keep their projects moving forward, and will need to be refilled as soon as possible.

Willy Peck brought along some maps of the Redd Bull area and pointed out different portions of the proposal, which includes fisheries, old growth timber and proposed harvest units. “This is a moving document but we will try to keep it as close to this as possible,” he said.

Since the project started at 8,700 acres and has grown to 17,700 acres, “It’s growing due to the collaboration between groups,” Peck said. Those groups include the Forest Service; Idaho Forest Group; DNRC; as well as various other state, county and federal organizations and agencies.

Two other issues were brought up regarding property lines. House District Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, talked about the issue of 13 acres of land along the Montana and Idaho border. The land is actually Montana’s, but it is currently being assessed to Shoshone County for tax purposes.

It is part of the Lookout Ski area and contains a grooming hut and rental shop for bikes and ski equipment. Years ago, the property line was moved on an assessment map and Shoshone County assumed it was the new state line. “Well, you don’t just move a state line,” Loge said.

He worked for the highway department, helping to mark that road 20 years ago. The Bureau of Land Management originally surveyed the area and they have those records, Loge said. Mineral County also hired Ron Warrant to check out the locations, which is how the 13 acres was determined. Last spring, Denley, along with Commissioner Roman Zylawy and County Planner Tim Read, visited with the Shoshone commissioners but haven’t heard back from them since. Loge asked the coalition if they would be willing to write a letter of support to continue to press the issue and get those taxes back into the county.

“It may not be much but with the expansion of the Lookout Ski area, it could become more valuable,” Loge said.

Another property line that is in contention is the Cyr Mountain Road. Diane Magone discussed the issue of the road which she, along with several local residents, feel is a public road and has been gated illegally. The road has been in use since the 1870s, and was sold to the Wheaton brothers about five years ago from Stimpson Lumber. The Wheatons were told it was private land and that they could gate it. Local residents feel the road should be public. Magone has been researching it to see if there is a public easement attached to the road. To date, that documentation has not been found.

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