Missoula to host forest health summit for governors

By SHERRY DEVLIN of the Missoulian


Missoula, Montana - Five Western governors - those of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona - are expected in Missoula for three days in mid-June for a summit on wildland fire risks and the health of public and private forests.

Called by Montana Gov. Judy Martz, who chairs the Western Governors' Association, the forest health summit will bring to town the complete cast of characters in the ever-dramatic debate over how best to address the increasing incidence of large - and largely unstoppable - wildfires.

From Washington, D.C., will come Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and his deputy chiefs, and Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her assistant secretaries. Expected, too, are hundreds of state foresters, firefighters, city and county leaders, timber industry officials and environmentalists from throughout the West.
More than 300 people already have registered for the June 17-19 summit and its associated field trips.

If all goes as planned, the end result will not only be "a lot of goodwill and elbow rubbing," but also 20-25 recommendations for the full assemblage of Western governors (the association includes 18 states) to consider, said WGA counsel Paul Orbuch.

"We're looking for a strategy that will produce a collaborative effort to try and address this region's forest health problems," Orbuch said in a telephone interview from his office in Denver. "We want to identify new partners, forge new relationships, find out what's working and what's not, and what could be done better."

The summit will begin Tuesday evening, June 17, with addresses by Martz - who has made forest health a priority during her chairmanship of the governors' association - and Bosworth, who before being named Forest Service chief by President Bush was the agency's regional forester in Missoula.

On their first full day together, the governors and hundreds of others will board school buses at 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 18, and embark on a field trip to the University of Montana's Lubrecht Experimental Forest, Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. in Seeley Lake, Big Larch Campground and the Forest Service's Clearwater Stewardship Project just north of Seeley Lake.

Thus far, summit organizers have confirmation from governors Martz, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon.

Kempthorne and Napolitano will give keynote addresses and lead an after-the-field-trip discussion of forest health issues on Wednesday evening. All sessions are at the Holiday Inn Parkside; registration for the summit has closed, although some seats may be available on the day of the event.

Thursday, June 19, is the work day.

An opening panel - at 7:30 a.m. - will provide forest health perspectives from Butch Blazer, New Mexico's state forester; Lynn Jungwirth, executive director, Watershed Research and Training Center, Hayfork, Calif.; and Rep. Tom O'Halleran, Arizona Legislature.

Then will come the call to action, dubbed "accepting the challenge and getting results" and featuring remarks by Martz, Norton and Kulongoski.

For three hours, summit participants will split into five breakout groups intended to examine different pieces of the forest-health puzzle: improving fire prevention and suppression; reducing hazardous fuels; restoring fire-adapted ecosystems; promoting community stability; and collaboration challenges.

Each breakout group will have its own panel of experts but a similar assignment: Report back to the larger group with recommendations for the policymakers.

"The breakout groups are where the conversation gets real," Orbuch said. "We've tried to cover all the corners of the region and all the different perspectives. That's the way we operate."

"The governors' strategy is to look at this forest health issue across all landscapes," he added. "All land ownerships, all ecosystems, all perspectives."

Two years ago, the governors endorsed a 10-year national wildland fire and restoration strategy predicated on "building collaboration at all levels of government." Then came an implementation plan, calling for improvements in fire prevention and suppression, reduction of forest fuels, restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems and the promotion of community-based fire-risk reduction programs.

At this month's summit in Missoula, the governors will attempt to assess how far Western states and the federal government have progressed in implementing their plan - and begin deciding where to go next.

Everyone is welcome at the table, said Orbuch, whose job it is to be "the balancer." What comes of the conversation, he said, is anyone's guess.

Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or at sdevlin@missoulian.com

If you're interested

For the complete agenda of the Western Governors' Association forest health summit, visit the association's Web site at www.westgov.org. The Web site also carries full copies of the governors' 10-year wildland fire strategy and implementation plan.


Hundreds registered for meeting on western forest policy

by The Associated Press
Montana Independent Record


MISSOULA (AP) More than 300 people have registered to attend a Western Governors' Association summit on forest policy scheduled here this month.

Gov. Judy Martz, chairwoman of the association, called for the meeting to discuss wildfire risks and the health of public and private forests.

Four other western governors are expected to attend the summit, as are U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Officials say they also expect hundreds of state foresters, firefighters, local politicians, timber industry representatives and environmentalists from throughout the West.

The meeting is intended to provide more than networking opportunities for attendees, governor's association counsel Paul Orbuch told the Missoulian.

Officials also want to develop recommendations for the full Western Governor's Association, he said.

``We want to identify new partners, forge new relationships, find out what's working and what's not, and what could be done better,'' Orbuch said.

The association is an independent, nonprofit organization representing the governors of 18 states and three U.S.-Flag islands in the Pacific.

Martz declared wildfire prevention as her top priority last year when she was named head of the association.

The summit is scheduled to begin June 17 with addresses by Martz and Bosworth, formerly the Forest Service's regional forester in Missoula.

The next day, participants will travel to the University of Montana's Lubrecht Experimental Forest, Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. in Seeley Lake, Big Larch Campground and the Forest Service's Clearwater Stewardship Project just north of Seeley Lake.

The final day includes discussion on forest health by a panel of regional representatives.

Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said law enforcement planning for the event has been delegated to an incident command team including Missoula City Police, the sheriff's department, the Montana Highway Patrol, the Forest Service and the FBI.

McMeekin said he expects protests during the summit but hasn't heard of anything that raises public safety concerns.

The sheriff's department and city police have worked to keep an open discussion in recent years with organizations that might be involved in Missoula-area protests, he said.

``The effort to have a continuing regular dialogue with representatives of a lot of diverse groups that has big dividends,'' McMeekin said. ``The more understanding you have with different groups, the less confrontation you're going to have.''

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