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BLM Shows A Softer Side – Christian Schwab

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for 245 million acres nationally.

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BLM Shows A Softer Side

By Christian Schwab

Sandpoint – Without much public notice, Bonner County Commissioners hosted the BLM for their annual report, leading to much speculation as to their designated position within the federal oversight schematics and their (BLM’s) purpose. The presentation was broken down into six different subjects: Lands, Vegetation Management Projects, Riparian/Stream Restoration, Recreation and Budget.

Mr. Kurt Pavlat explained they are designated through the Department of the Interior.  In Bonner County, they manage 11,975 acres while his department is responsible for the 5 Northern Counties with 14 employees. Within these counties, they manage 99,000 acres, which is low considering the next region covers the six counties in the south, consuming 130,000 acres.  These numbers are not expected to change within the next 5 years. The BLM is responsible for 245 million acres nationally though each “district” within each state is in control their own region, due to the varying landscape in those regions.

The BLM claims they are different from all other federal departments as they are the only department that brings more money in then they use, leading to a profit of about three percent for county region. Only local governments must be revenue neutral when implementing fees. They can also claim no land in the five northern counties was affected by the record firestorms in 2015. They only have one law enforcement officer within the area but don’t have any real issues as he doesn’t see any real problems.

This year’s agenda includes sales of “fuel reduction” material from Gamin Lake Recreation Area, Livermore Lake and opening up more trails east of Sagle, starting in April. Though Livermore Lake is not easily accessible at the moment, plans are being studied to create a nature trail. Gamin Lake does allow for residents to cut firewood if they have a permit and as long as a company has not received a logging contract with BLM. Those permit fees are based on a national average and cannot be adjusted locally. Fees are also collected from private business and land owners.  Examples given by the BLM representative include if a water easement is necessary and grazing, if it is “done right” by rotating the cattle placement to give time for the grass to grow back as “this is not the 1800’s.”

After the meeting, some residents questioned their management practices of “taking out small trees and leaving the bigger ones” instead of leaving the smaller and medium ones, which would lead to fewer maintenance fees between cycles.

BLM is a ‘Multi Use’ Agency; Mr. Pavlat explained this is the reason they do not close roads unless they are “private” access and then this would be done at the owner’s request.

The BLM will continue to work with the City of Sandpoint and the USFS to implement an $85,000 trail review of the county, which started within the city under the non-profit “Friends of the Ponderay Trail” in 2012. These trails will include biking and hiking, and these will be available on a map which is expected to be released by the end of the month. The “funding” discussion was a heated issue as the public “educated” the three commissioners in the group regarding the “Trust For Public Lands”, a Non-Government Organization. The residents argued that TFPL group uses public issues to promote Agenda 21 in disguise of “Economic Development.” The trails project engulfs 160 acres though BLM only has a “tiny” fraction of the Minikanic Trail, which was started last year.

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Bonner County Commissioner Cary Kelly

Meanwhile, the Clark Folk Delta Restoration Project continues, leading to residents questioning (again) where their boundary ends and the state’s begin, because Fish and Game is taking the lead on the project. “It’s complicated because the funds originate with Fish and Game”, Mr. Pavlat explained.  “Anything above the high waterline is our responsibility while anything below belongs to the state.” As he continued to answer questions, attendees learned that the Committee is made up of commissioners, state and federal employees and citizens. None of these volunteers get paid for their participation. “This Committee is about public input.” Commissioner Kelly explained but he did not see it as important for Bonner County to have a commissioner on the committee due to the limited amount of land BLM claims within the County. Their next meeting will take place March 24th at the local BLM building in Coeur d’Alene.

BLM offers ROW grants to local communities for economic development of BLM land to support public use though this avenue for funding in Bonner County has never been attempted and with limited land, would be unlikely to get funded. The grants must look at the recreational usage of the land and must be feasible to implement.

For further information the public can contact Secretary of the Committee Susan Drummiller or PAO Susan Endsley.

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