Friday, March 4, 2005

Forest supervisor gazes into future

Monahan says Forest Service wants people to stay 'connected' to public lands

Express Staff Writer

Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan is pragmatic about assessing what her agency will be able to accomplish in decades to come.

It can effectively work to protect the lives and property of people who live in and around the forest, she maintains, but certainly won't be able to meet all of the demands of an ever-growing number of forest users and stakeholders.

Monahan, who is based in Twin Falls, visited Ketchum Monday, Feb. 28, to promote events surrounding the centennial of the U.S. Forest Service and the Sawtooth National Forest, which comprises more than 2 million acres around the Wood River Valley.

For Monahan, the visit came on the heels of a four-day summit in Washington, D.C., to discuss critical challenges facing America's forest managers. The summit—which took place in early January—was designed to kick off the Forest Service centennial and initiate a dialogue about how the nation's forests should be managed over the next 100 years.

Monahan said the summit revealed numerous challenges for the Forest Service and the Sawtooth National Forest alike.

One of the primary tasks, Monahan said, will be keeping people who live in increasingly urban settings educated about the links between healthy forests and healthy communities. Forests not only provide timber, minerals and recreation, she said, they are critical in maintaining clean supplies of water and air.

"It's more challenging today to keep people connected with public lands," Monahan said. "People are less connected."

Monahan said she believes the Forest Service in years to come will play a larger role in providing "ecological services" to the public, particularly providing clean water and air.

"In the West, most of the drinking water comes off National Forest lands," she said.

Key goals of the Forest Service, she said, are restoring the health of the nation's woodlands and watersheds, ensuring rural communities reduce their vulnerability to wildfires and brokering compromises between the millions of people who hold different views about how forests should be managed.

The Forest Service once served mainly as a "custodial" agency, she noted, before working diligently in the post-World War II era and the 1980s to manage sharp increases in the demand for timber.

The demand for timber is still very high, she said, but as opposition to overly aggressive timber harvesting remains steadfast, much of the demand is being met by foreign suppliers from Canada and South America.

"I think that is something society is going to struggle with," Monahan said.

As for the Sawtooth National Forest, Monahan said, reducing wildfire fuels is a priority, as is learning more about how to limit the widespread destruction brought by mountain pine beetles and Douglas-fir bark beetles.

Mountain pine beetles, which have already wreaked havoc on lodgepole pine forests in the Sawtooth Valley, are now starting to infest highly valued whitebark pine trees nearby, she said.

"We're concerned," Monahan said.

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