Forestry advisory committees to merge


January 29, 2021


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Bessemer — The Gogebic and Ontonagon resource advisory committees to the U.S. Forest Service will soon become a single committee, according to a forestry official report at the Gogebic County Board of Commission meeting on Wednesday.

Darla Lenz, who was named the forest supervisor for the Ottawa National Forest on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service in July, attended the meeting virtually to introduce herself officially to the county commission and to discuss changes that will affect the Gogebic County Resource Advisory Committee.

In her career, Lenz served with the Ottawa National Forest in the Ontonagon district until 2011. She was then the forest supervisor with the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota for nine years until returning to the Ottawa National Forest.

“I am excited to be back and looking forward to working with you and the communities of the western U.P.,” Lenz said.

The Resource Advisory Committee was established under the Secure Rural Schools Act of the U.S. Forest Service. The act provides payments to states and counties with national forest lands within their boundaries. The resource advisory committees recommend and approve Title II project funds for their respective districts in addition to the agency’s direct funding of Title I projects, she said.

There have been 19 Title II projects established through the Gogebic Resource Advisory Committee from 2008 through 2015, according to board information. Another 16 were approved through the Ontonagon Resource Advisory Committee.

The projects range from trail development, signage, boat landing and dock rehabilitation, to invasive species removal, controlling the spread of Eurasian water milfoil, and interior projects to include pavilion renovations, road and cemetery rehabilitation, and river and snowmobile access protection. The funds are designed to support projects that benefit the national forest resources and users.

The committees play a role in reviewing and recommending projects to the forester, Lenz said. Over the last three years the average annual dollar amount entitled to Gogebic County was about $60,000, which is not a large sum of money but is appreciated for supporting projects that benefit the national forests and area communities, she said.

The separate county advisory committees have 15 full members and five alternate members, she said. Recruiting members for the past decade has proven to be a challenge along with a time-consuming administrative process for vetting the board applications through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It would be more efficient for the Forestry office to recruit 15 members and five alternates for a single board representing Gogebic and Ontonagon counties as opposed to twice the amount for two boards, she said. It would be a joint committee with a cross section of members from both counties with the ability to achieve the goals of each county.

The board would still manage the project funds separately through project development recommendations and approval to ensure Title II dollars are spent proportionately. Project recommendations would not have to come through the board members directly.

“You don’t have to be on the committee to submit a project,” she said.

The committee memberships are currently expired, Lenz said. The Forestry service intends to refresh the memberships based on a variety of interests and backgrounds as soon as the new committee framework is designed.

The timeline to consider will coincide with the national charter for resource advisory committees in March, she said. The reorganization would occur in the first half of 2021, and recruiting for the boards would start toward the latter half of 2021.

“We would certainly get that information out to recruit and to look for help with recruiting as well,” Lenz said.

Title II funding without a committee in place tends to sit in limbo where it’s not available or of benefit to anyone, said Anthony Holland, the district ranger for Watersmeet and Bessemer districts, who also attended the meeting virtually.

James Lorenson, county board chair, said the decision to combine the two boards is an appropriate direction for the county.

Joe Bonovetz, county commissioner, said it isn’t unusual for Gogebic County to share services and resources with Ontonagon County, as well as all western U.P. counties with services such as Western U.P. Health Department, Michigan Works! and Western U.P. Planning and Development Region.

“We work with them a lot and I think it’s an excellent choice to combine both counties into one group because in the past there has been trouble filing those positions for both counties and I think it is a good direction to go,” Bonovetz said.

In other business, the county commission approved:

—Receipt of a Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners communication regarding Resolution 8-2021, an act to withhold support of prosecuting violations of state Department of Health and Human Services emergency orders regarding COVID-19.

—Transferring a county clerk and register of deeds credit card from the name of the previous clerk to the present clerk.

—An Iron Belle Trail Project compliance report to reflect work was completed from the Bessemer to Ramsay segment.

—Appointed Carrie Hampston and Bill McMullin to the county transit board; Bill McMullin to the Community Mental Health Authority board, and Crystal Suzik to the county fair board. All are three year terms.

—Rejoining the Northern Rail Transportation Commission with a $250 membership fee. Commissioners Tom Laabs and Joe Bonovetz were appointed members for 2021 with commissioner James Lorenson as the alternate.


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