Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jocko Canyon trees safe, for now

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 9:54 AM

About a year ago, residents along the Jocko Canyon Road east of Arlee noticed red Xs on roughly 100 roadside ponderosa pines. Most of the trees were old—60 years to a century, give or take. When locals pressed the Lake County Commission for answers, they were told the trees would be removed.

What followed, says artist Leslie Millar, who has lived in the Jocko off and on since the early ’70s, was an ever-shifting list of reasons why. First the commission cited problems with snowplow operations. Then it was issues with degrading road quality. After a group of citizens pushed for a public meeting and a site tour with commissioners, it seemed the opposition had won.

“The understanding was that the issue was closed, and that in the improbable future when maybe they’re going to pave all the way from Arlee to Seeley Lake and put in shoulders and all this stuff … we would revisit it,” Millar says.

When new markers popped up on as many as 150 trees last week, the same residents balked. They sent emails and made phone calls, fearing the loss of the aesthetic appeal of their rural neighborhood without input, environmental review or justification. Commissioners made it clear that another meeting would not happen.

“We don’t intend to call and meet with all of them again,” says Commissioner Ann Brower. “The concerns that we have been emailed and called [about] are the same as they were before, so we are fully aware of their concerns.”

According to Brower, the reason for removing the trees “boils down to maintenance and safety issues” within the county right-of-way. The project was costly and not entirely urgent, she says, until last year’s Jocko Canyon Fire swept through the area. Had the county kept up with right-of-way maintenance in years past, she adds, “we could potentially have avoided the fire jumping the road.”

Residents aren’t sold on the latest reason, and tensions nearly came to a head this week when logging equipment was spotted on the Jocko Canyon Road. Brower says the county reached an agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ forestry department to include the trees in an ongoing salvage operation nearby.

CSKT Communications Director Robert McDonald confirms the agreement did initially exist. But when tribal officials were approached by residents on the road Monday and finally made aware of the “level of emotion” surrounding the trees, they promptly backed off. McDonald says the department has no intention to remove the roadside trees at this time.

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