The parent company of Camas Prairie RailNet has established a conservancy group to preserve continuous ownership of the soon-to-be-abandoned line, which could help recreational rail-to-trail projects. North American RailNet attorney John Heffner submitted a financial responsibility statement to the Surface Transportation Board for the railroad on April 25. Any proposal for a rail-to-trail project has to be accepted by that board, Heffner said, adding a final decision should come within a week or two. He said the railroad has been working with the tribe which expressed interest in creating a recreational trail on part of the line. It also talked with the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department, a common partner in such development. A second subdivision of the line between Spaulding and Grangeville was approved for abandonment in September. No one bid to continue operation so the railroad contracted with a salvaging company which has scheduled work this summer. Goal in forming the conservancy group was to maintain single ownership of the entire line and thus have time to work with individual entities to break off portions for trail development, he said.
An Interior Department spokesman said April 25 his agency has not abandoned the grizzly reintroduction project along the Montana-Idaho border, despite reports Interior Secretary Gale Norton plans to shelve the program. Mark Pfeifle said the secretary is committed to increasing the number of wild grizzlies in the lower 48 states, but is concerned about plans to bring the bear back to the Bitterroot Mountains of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Management of the five grizzlies to be released each year for five years, beginning in 2002, would be the responsibility of citizens appointed by the governors of Idaho and Montana and the tribe. In January, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne sued to stop the program, accusing the Clinton administration of trying to force "massive flesh-eating carnivores" on the state. Members of the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, Mont., said they had talked with Interior officials and came away discouraged. A Norton aid told a federation attorney she would not go against the wishes of the governor. Coordinators of the reintroduction plan said they had received no word of any change. "We are continuing with the existing decision."