SWAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT STUDY
Questions and Answers
Q – What is the Lake County Conservation District (LCCD)?
A – The Montana State Legislature passed Conservation District enabling legislation in 1939. The LCCD was formed in 1945. Conservation Districts have a wide range of responsibilities. The LCCD has a history of assisting and supporting the agriculture community’s efforts to improve their land use practices, especially those practices that could contribute to soil erosion and affect water quality. In 1975, the Montana State Legislature passed legislation requiring Conservation Districts to administer a Montana State law pertaining to human activity in and around perennial streams that could cause soil erosion and sedimentation. More can be learned about the LCCD by going to http//:lakecountyconservationdistrict.org.
Q – What is the Swan Resource Management Study?
A – The LCCD is exploring the establishment of a LCCD Conservation Forest. The LCCD forest would be located in the Lake County portion of the Swan River Drainage on United States Forest Lands (USFS).
Q – Why would the LCCD want to establish a Conservation Forest?
A – The LCCD would like to increase support of the agriculture community and expand conservation activities throughout the District. In particular, the LCCD would like to support projects that improve water quality and reduce soil erosion. In order to accomplish these goals, the LCCD must have a continuous and predictable source of money.
Q – Are there other sources of money that could be used to pay for additional conservation projects?
A – Conservation Districts have two main sources of money; property owners in the District and grant money. In Lake County, our tax base is shrinking as private lands are taken off the tax rolls as fee lands are purchased by different governments. Asking property owners to support higher taxes for conservation projects would likely end in failure. Grant money comes from both the State and Federal governments. Grant money is not continuous nor is it predictable.
Q – Who would manage the Conservation Forest?
A – The LCCD would sign an agreement with the State of Montana, Department of Natural Resources, Trust Lands and Forestry Divisions that would assign management of the forest to an experienced, professional manager. The Trust Lands Division currently manages over 5.1 million acres for 11 beneficiaries.
Q – How much money could one expect to receive from a Conservation Forest?
A – After an approximate 4 year start-up period, the harvest and sale of timber could yield between $300,000 and $500,000 per year for LCCD conservation projects.
Q – What kind of conservation projects would this money be used for?
A – Possible uses are; noxious weed control, ground water irrigation monitoring instruments, residential septic tank and drain field upgrades, dust control on private and County roads, wastewater treatment plant improvements, culvert and bridge improvements, improved pasture management and riparian zone restoration. These few examples would likely be expanded as Lake County residents offer suggestions.
Q – Does the LCCD have the authority to assume management responsibility?
A – Yes, the Montana legislature gave all Conservation Districts authority to manage United States projects that affect soil erosion and water management, provided Congress gives permission.
Q – Are there examples where Federal Forest lands have been turned over for the kind of local management that is being proposed?
A – No, if approved this would be the first.
Q – Will the Federal Government and the USFS support the creation of a Conservation Forest?
A – That is hard to say. In the long run, it would benefit the Federal Government as the taxpayer’s cost of managing forest lands is reduced. Many of the USFS managed forest acres in the Swan have a very heavy build-up of forest fuels. Reducing these fuels will also reduce the Federal government’s cost of fighting forest fires.
Q – If a Conservation forest is established, will recreational use of these lands change?
A – Recreational use would remain the same or could be enhanced. The LCCD with DNRC support, would look for recreational use partners to help identify current and new recreational opportunities and take responsibility for implementation and maintenance.
Q – If a Conservation forest is created, will established use of this land base change?
A – Probably not. By treaty, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes have historical rights on the Swan forest lands currently administered by the United Forest Service. This will not change. Other uses like hunting, trapping, berry picking etc. will not change.
Q – What would prevent the Swan Resource Management Study from turning into a Conservation Forest Initiative and from becoming reality?
A – There are many hurdles to jump. Early in the summer of 2014, the LCCD Board of Supervisors will determine if the study should continue or be terminated. It’s hard to say at this point what the Board’s decision will be. If the Board votes to continue the study, the next step could be discussions with Montana’s Congressional delegation to seek a path forward, or again, termination of the Study. A key aspect of these discussions will revolve around the inclusion of language in a Federal Bill that will allow management of the USFS lands in Lake County to be conducted under the same laws, rules and regulations used by the State of Montana to manage State Forest lands.
Q – Why would Lake County voters want to support continuance of the Swan Resource Management Study?
A – The people of Lake County would directly benefit from this initiative in two ways. First, by managing these lands, the chance of a large and very hot fire is reduced significantly. Forest soils would remain productive and severe erosion would be avoided. As a result, the integrity of Swan Lake will be preserved. Second, the income derived from the sale of forest products would directly benefit county residents as conservation projects are implemented.
Q – Why would Lake County voters decline support of further study?
A – This question will be answered during a series of four open-house style meetings. Those attending will be asked to complete a survey. The results of the survey will be compiled for LCCD Board review before determining next steps.
Q – What are the next steps?
A – The LCCD would like to know what Lake County residents think about this study. The next step is a series of public meeting in St.Ignatius, Polson, Condon and Swan Lake where Lake County residents will be able to weigh in. The open house style meeting will be widely announced and will be held in May, June and July. After the meetings have concluded, the LCCD Board will discuss and then determine the next step.