GRAND RAPIDS (AP) -- At a U.S. Senate hearing to investigate the U.S. Forest Service's response to last summer's blowdown in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Forest Service was mostly praised for its efforts, but others were critical of the agency's long-range plans for the region.
Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., called for Friday's meeting of the subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management to hear concerns that the Forest Service wasn't moving fast enough to remove downed trees that have created a major fire threat.
It was attended by subcommittee Chairman Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Grams, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., along with about 350 spectators.
Most speakers praised the Forest Service's efforts to get injured people out of the BWCA, conduct searches and reopen roads, campsites and portages soon after the storm.
Bill Hansen, owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters near Tofte, said the agency's ''Herculean'' effort allowed his business and many others to stay open.
''The fact they had every portage open within three weeks was nothing short of amazing,'' Hansen said.
Others praised the agency's developing plans to remove downed trees, both by logging and with intentional fires.
But others complained Superior National Forest planners weren't moving fast enough to get rid of dead and drying trees. State and county officials have mostly completed cleanup on their land, some people noted, while the Forest Service has barely started.
Craig said it would be late 2001 before the first intentional fires are set. But the Forest Service is initiating a moratorium on new roads in forests in half that time.
''I'm a bit frustrated by a two-year cycle,'' Craig said.
Bob Wilhelm, an Itasca County Commissioner, said burns should start this fall to lower the fuel load in the BWCA
''The blowdown in the BWCAW is the largest waste of wood resource in the history of the Forest Service,'' said Wilhelm.
Wellstone asked those testifying and members of the audience to continue the cooperative efforts started after the storm.
''It's been an incredible, high-morale community effort,'' Wellstone said.
Still, several panel members complained about the Forest Service moving away from intensive management of national forests.
While more trees are being cut statewide than ever before, logging in the Superior National Forest has declined from 99,307 million board-feet as recently as 1993 to 55,764 in 1999. Some panelists said that drop is hurting small communities near the forest dependent on logging and mill jobs.
State Sen. Bob Lessard, DFL-International Falls, said it was Forest Service policy in Washington that was causing resentment in northern Minnesota. ''It is adversarial, what's happening up here,'' Lessard said.
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