County, coalition sign collaborative agreement

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An agreement the Lincoln County Commission signed Nov. 29 might be unique in Montana.

At the very least, it was a dream come true for one of the involved parties.

“The Yaak Valley Forest Council and me personally have been hoping for something like this for 20 years, so thank you,” the council’s Executive Director Robyn King told the County Commissioners after all three voted in favor of the agreement.

The Memorandum of Agreement is between the Commission and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition. In addition to the Yaak Valley Forest Council, the Coalition includes the Kootenai River Development Council, Troy Snowmobile Club, Montana Wilderness Association and other recreation organizations and business entities.

“The agreement is just a statement that says we are willing to work together to find common ground where possible on projects that the Forest Service brings forth in their yearly planning process,” King wrote in a follow-up email. “As far as we know, there isn’t another stakeholder/commissioner agreement like this in the state.”

King wrote that the agreement will help the coalition fulfill its goal to “enhance communication and coordination between all community members who have an interest in management of our federal lands.”

Under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, an environmental review process already exists that allows the public to participate in deciding what to do with federal lands. What King believes has been missing “is the coordination of community voices in that process.”

“This agreement ... is a first step in unifying our community participation in the process,” she wrote. “It seems to us that the more unified our community voice is on how our public lands are managed opens the door for greater collaboration with the Forest Service.”

With the signed agreement, King said the coalition would “actively seek” projects it and the Commission could collaborate on and “use these guidelines .. to bring a unified voice to the analysis process.”

King noted that the coalition since 2006 has sought “to find common ground where we can on traditionally polarizing land management issues.”

“We just can’t tell you how excited we are about this opportunity,” King told the Commission after the agreement was signed and everybody was getting ready to leave the table.

“Our goal is to make our forests productive,” Commissioner Mike Cole replied. “This is a huge part of it.”

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