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Waubun school board's plan to log school forest hits snag

Retired teacher Ray Torkildson (right) asked the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School Board to delay awarding bids on logging at the school forest until the community knows more about the plan. (Jason Adkins/Record)1 / 2
Circle of Life transition coordinator Bill Steck (left) make sure that Vernon Jackson gets back to the classroom after Jackson took a lap on the cross country trail at the Waubun School Forest on Tuesday. (Jason Adkins/Record)2 / 2

WAUBUN - Plans for the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth School District to earn revenue by allowing logging in the school forest hit a snag during last Thursday's School Board meeting.

The Board tabled a proposal to award a bid to log a limited amount of timber in the forest.

Ray Thorkildson, a retired teacher in the district, said most of the opposition revolved around a lack of specific information about the plan.

"There's a lot of miscommunication and misinformation out there," he said.

"This has kind of steamrolled in the past few weeks," Superintendent Mitch Anderson said. "A lot of people think it involves us clearing out the school forest. That's not what I want to see."

An informational meeting will be held at the school forest on Friday at 1 p.m. The Waubun School Forest is located about 10 miles east of Waubun on State Highway 113. There is a wood sign at the entrance.

"A school forest plan is important and needed," Thorkildson said.

Plans to log a portion of the forest aren't new. The School Board has discussed logging at various times in the past year.

The district had contracted for logging a few years ago. But the price of wood collapsed and the district let the logger out of the contract.

The school district, in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources, have a logging plan in place.

DNR officer Jeff Straub said that his role isn't to advocate for a specific position on logging. But when property owners request help in managing forest land, he said that the DNR helps with that.

"It's not my job to tell them what to do," Straub said of the School Board.

The plan that Straub developed was to log two areas and leave one area intact where logging is feasible. Straub said that leaving one area to decline naturally gives students an idea of what happens to a forest without human intervention.

Bill Paulson of Naytahwaush said that if logging takes place, loggers just can't rush in and hurry to do the job. Paulson added that a plan needs to be in place before logging begins.

"It's just important to take a close look at what the impact would be," Paulson said.

Holding off on logging poses problems too, though.

The old access road to the forest is on clay and it's only firm during the winter. District officials hoped to get logging done before the ground thaws.

Plus with the district cutting close to $350,000 from the budget for the 2009-10 school year, any revenue to offset expenses would be helpful.

"It's fiscally responsible to look where you can to get revenue from what you do," said Board Member Tammy Winter.

Business manager Michelle Heisler said that when budget cuts come, the district looks first at any extra programs before cuts come to the regular classroom.

The district has repaired the building at the forest, which contains a classroom and ski storage. Portable toilets are also available at the forest year round.

The delay in awarding a bid didn't concern board members, as most agreed that they want to get it done right.

"Everyone wants to find something that will work for everyone," Winter said.