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City looks to county for better forest management

The city is looking to change the way it manages the Superior Municipal Forest. And the goal is to partner with Douglas County to make it happen.

"Nature will manage that forest," Mayor Jim Paine said. "Nature will manage it, but the tools that nature uses is pestilence and fire. If we want to avoid that, we should ... engage in a more responsible forest management plan than that. And we should be able to gain financially out of that as well."

But before the city can start down that road, it needs to develop a forest management plan, which would have to be adopted by the Council, and to amend a charter ordinance that restricts what the city can do in the forest.

The Municipal Forest Protection Charter Ordinance was sought — and gained — by residents after former Mayor Herb Bergson lent his support to three unpopular proposals affecting the city forest. It preserves the forest for recreational and educational activities and facilities, and prohibits the city from conveying interest in any lands designated municipal forest at the time of adoption.

"That forest is locked up pretty tight by the charter ordinance," Paine said. "That has to be fully amended ... it's pretty sacred as far as ordinances go."

The public would have a right to contest actions taken by the Council concerning the forest.

"We would alter the ordinance so that we could only work on harvest under the rule of a forest management plan," Paine said.

Paine said the goal is to look after the fiscal and ecological health of the city.

"We want to get this moving forward," Council President Keith Kern said. "We want the community to understand what we're doing."

The forest would be managed using timber harvests to keep it safe for the public, Kern said.

Douglas County has long managed its forest under a management plan.

"Our county forestry does a very good job of forest management and conducting sales," Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said. "They also do it now for Land and Development, land that is not registered under our forest management. We do it for a percentage of the cut and a small administration fee to set the sale up and inventory."

Liebaert said he has talked to the head forester, who is open to managing the timber portion of the Superior Municipal Forest.

"Once you give us the authority to run a sale, it is the responsibility of the forestry department to run that sale," Liebaert said. "If a logger calls you and says, 'I need a two-week extension on there,' your City Council can't get involved in managing that sale. It screws up everything ... it can't be political."

Supervisor Keith Allen, chairman of the Land and Development Committee, said when that committee got involved with a timber sale conducted by the forestry department on non-forest lands, it hurt the county.

Last month, the forestry committee accepted its first bids for land managed outside of its registered forest for the first time in years.

The city is working on a request-for-proposals to develop a forest management plan, which will be reviewed by the city's Urban Forest Committee, Paine said.

The Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet April 18.

Paine estimates it could take a year or two before the city has accomplished all the steps to partner with the county for the city's first timber sale.

"A partnership with the county makes the most sense," Paine said. "The county has experience in forest management, and my experience with the county, the county has been a good ecological steward of its forest."