RAC looking to dish out funds for projects

A Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest citizen advisory committee is soliciting funding applications for projects that will in someway enhance the national forest.

The Southwest Montana Resource Advisory Committee will have about $300,000 to put toward projects this year, said Dave Schulz, chair of the RAC and Madison County Commissioner.

The Southwest Montana RAC covers four counties – Beaverhead, Jefferson, Silver Bow and Madison.

The authorization for RACs comes from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act of 2000. Under the direction of the act, RACs are made up of 15 members from three broad interest groups: industry and commercial interests, conservation and outdoor groups, and elected government officials or school officials and teachers.

The funding for the RAC comes from each county’s allotment of federal funding under the act, Schulz said.

Last year the Southwest Montana RAC was able to utilize two years of funding and put $600,000 toward projects all around the region, he said.

The projects included noxious weed work, road reconstruction and bridge work, Schulz said.

Any RAC-funded project must be on national forest lands within the area of the RAC, which in this case means the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in the four county area.

However, the RAC has wide latitude to consider projects that would benefit the forest, Schulz said.

For instance, noxious weed projects along roads going into the national forest would obviously benefit the forest by helping slow the spread of weeds, he said.

Typically, the RAC has looked more favorably on projects that have had more than one source of funding.

“If we can take one dollar of RAC funding and put it with two dollars from some other source we’re getting good bang for our buck,” Schulz said.

Projects that he anticipates coming before the RAC this year will address noxious weeds, roads and trails in the forest and soil stabilization. He also anticipates some watershed restoration projects.

Steve Primm, who lives in Ennis and works with the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, sits on the RAC with Schulz.

One big benefit to the RAC is the diversity of the group. With the wide array of interests represented, project proposals can be scrutinized from a variety of viewpoints.

“This provides an opportunity for people to come together and have a dialogue,” Primm said.

Southwest Montana is unique and important in a lot of ways, he said.

“The social and ecological values of the landscape here are really, really important,” Primm said. “We’ve got things here in this part of the nation that no one else has.”

The good part about the RAC is not only is the representation on the committee broad-based, but there is actually some money behind them to put toward the good projects, he said.

“We get to pick some projects that are going to make a difference and we can all agree on and thanks to the rest of the nation we have some money behind them,” Primm said.

One area of need Primm expects to see addressed in new project applications is the health of white bark pine tree stands in the area. The white bark pine stands have been decimated over recent years from the pine bark beetle.

These trees provide important wildlife habitat and play an important role in watershed health, he said.

With the help of the RAC, some of the problem could be addressed, Primm said.

“We have some opportunity to embark on some long term restoration projects to reverse that trend.”

Applications for project proposals are available electronically at https://wwwnotes.fs.fed.us/wo/secure_rural_schools.nsf.  Project proposals must be submitted via Internet by January 10, 2011 to be considered. The RAC will begin reviewing projects for possible funding in February. For more information about the RAC or to learn more about proposing projects contact RAC coordinator, Patty Bates at 683-3979 or Schulz at 843-4277.

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