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RAC natural resource grant returned

By Michael Howell

Due to an extended delay in implementing the project, the county commissioners agreed last week to return funds to the Ravalli County Resource Advisory Committee that had been granted to do an inventory of riparian areas along the West Fork Road. The $15,000 grant was to be used to identify and map areas of high value riparian habitat along the West Fork Road so that it could receive special consideration when road crews worked in the county right-of-way along the river bank.

Former Road Department Supervisor David Ohnstad successfully applied for the grant prior to his dismissal early this year.  Following the termination of his employment, the job was split into two positions, a department Administrator and an Operations Manager. An Administrator was hired but has since resigned effective October 18. The Operations Manager position was temporarily filled for about a month. A new Operations Manager was recently hired but will not start work until November.

In the meantime, the West Fork Riparian Management Project has languished and Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter asked the County Commissioners to return the funds to the Resource Advisory Committee so that the money could be put to use on other projects.

Resource Advisory Committees were established under the Reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000. The RACs recommend how to allocate a portion of federal funds Ravalli County receives under the Act. The Act directs that funds be spent on projects such as road, trail and infrastructure maintenance or obliteration, improvements in soil and forest ecosystem health, restoration and improvements of wildlife and fish habitat, control of weeds, and reestablishment of native animals and plants. Projects must benefit resources on National Forest lands and meet federal environmental law.

The Ravalli County RAC has approved 11 projects for funding in 2012. All of the projects will benefit National Forest System lands and ecosystems in Ravalli County. Altogether, the committee allocated more than $232,000 in project funding.

The committee reviewed fourteen proposals. The funding will support a wide diversity of projects in the Bitterroot Valley including monitoring trends and habitat for elk populations, restoring and planting vegetation along Cameron Creek, repairing and maintaining Bitterroot canyon trails, and fighting and eradicating invasive weeds growing on the National Forest and along the Bitterroot River, just to name a few. The following projects were approved:

1. Long-term Bat Acoustic Monitoring Program: $3,000

2. New invaders/Common Bugloss Weed – Ravalli County Weed District: $35,000

3. Cameron Creek – Streambank restoration: $3,000

4. Cameron Creek – Revegetation & fencing – Bitterroot Water Forum: $54,915

5. Monitoring trends in ungulate populations – Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks: $20,000

6. Monitoring trends in ungulate forage & habitat – Montana FWP: $20,000

7. Riparian restoration of Hog Trough Creek: $4,500

8. Lost Horse feeder canal – Bitterroot Irrigation District: $4,875

9. Lost Horse sanitation control – Darby Ranger District: $16,000

10. Healthy Kids ~ Healthy  Forests – Bitter Root RC & D:  $11,000

11. Maintenance of Bitterroot Canyon Trails – Montana Conservation Corps (MCC): $60,200

Total:  $232,490.

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