Friday, August 22, 2008

$5.5 million in local forest projects could be deferred

Trail reconstruction, new bridge, forest thinning involved


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Four major projects on the Sawtooth National Forest appear destined for deferment to make up for a projected $400 million shortfall in the federal fire-fighting budget.

The local projects, planned for areas on the forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area, total about $5.5 million and include:

· Trail reconstruction on Red Warrior Creek, Warfield and Eve's Gulch trails. The trails were heavily impacted by the Castle Rock Fire last August.

· Replacement of a bridge along upper Valley Creek, west of Stanley.

· Repair of fences south of Twin Falls, where the Black Pine Fire burned about 80,000 acres in July 2007.

· Thinning of 175 acres of forest near Soldier Mountain Ski Area.

Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer said those four, along with a few smaller projects, are now slated for deferment.

"We're probably holding up until the middle of September and probably until the beginning of the next fiscal year (in October)," Kollmeyer said. "We're several of many projects in the region and nation."

National Forests are trimming fat in areas from West Virginia to Colorado, Kollmeyer said. It's not specific to Idaho.

Sawtooth National Forest Budget Officer Jerry Gibbons said earlier this week that personnel at the headquarters office of the Intermountain Region in Ogden, Utah, have been examining the roughly 17 projects from the Sawtooth National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area that were proposed for possible deferment.

An order went out earlier this month from Forest Service headquarters to compile the projected $400 million shortfall in this summer's fire-fighting budget. Congress allocated $1.2 billion for the task, and estimates indicate the figure will go as high as $1.6 billion.

Gibbons said more than 201 projects were proposed for potential deferment from forests throughout the Intermountain Region.

"It just depends how many the regional office gets on that list, and it's a big list," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said it's possible that Congress will, as it did last year, pass a bill amending the nationwide fire-fighting budget to cover the projected shortfall.






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