Friday, February 22, 2013

Forest Service rep comes to council meeting

By Alannah Allbrett

Forest Service Deputy, Ralph Rau, addressed Orofino City Council’s regular meeting February 12, regarding the upcoming move of forest service offices to Kamiah. The joint Nez Perce Clearwater forests will be managed in one office in Kamiah, central in the district, to save money.

Rau said that not everyone “cherished that idea” but it boiled down to economics. Rau said that a lot of projects (such as fire management) have been zoned across the two forests for a number of years. It just made more sense, with budget reductions, to combine and operate as one forest. Rau stated that with the nation going through wars and other tough times, the forest service has a role to play in “balancing things” as much as any other federal agency. Rau stated that other forests in the U.S. have had to be consolidated as well. “The reality” he said, “is we did not have the resources to staff two forests. But by pooling our resources we are better able to fulfill our mission.”

Rau was asked if the forest service is planning a building program in Kamiah, to which he answered, “No.” The agency owns houses there and has already converted one of them into an office and is in the process of doing that to another house. Likewise, they have the option of converting a warehouse there for additional space. Altogether, they will be moving approximately 160 positions. The offices in Grangeville have another 10 years remaining on the lease. Rau said it cost nearly as much to try to get out of the lease as if they stayed in the facility. The Orofino offices have about a year and a half remaining on the lease.

Speaking of the road crews and fire suppression, Rau said that they will still be in Orofino because they are centrally located here and contracts are already set up. “Once the lease is up [in Orofino] we are going to have to get an office here. It does not logistically make sense to put that office somewhere else” said Rau. “We are the last forest in the region that has road crews. Others contract work out.”

Rau said, in the future, forest service staff will be happy to come to Orofino to make presentations and to answer questions if needed. Supervisor Brazell was unable to attend the last council meeting due to obligations with OSHA and sent his apologies.

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