Public comment deadline on two big salvage projects is Dec. 1

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The deadline for public comment on the Sunrise and Sheep Gap Fire timber salvage projects is Dec. 1, 2017. A total of 14,500 acres is proposed to be harvested starting in the spring of 2018. (Kathleen Woodford/Mineral Independent)

The deadline for public comment period for a proposed tree harvest by the Lolo National Forest for the Sunrise and Sheep Gap fires is December 1, 2017. The Sunrise Fire Salvage project is located on both the Superior and Ninemile Ranger Districts about 7 miles southeast of Superior, primarily within the Verde, Sunrise, Meadow, and Quartz Creek drainages.

The Sheep Gap Fire Salvage project is located across the Clark Fork River from Plains in the Eddy, Swamp, and Combest Creek drainages on the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District. There was a public field tour of the Sunrise Fire on November 16 followed by an informational meeting on November 16 in Alberton regarding the proposed projects. A field tour of the Sheep Gap Fire Salvage was held on November 7.

The Forest Service has requested an Emergency Situation Determination which calls for immediate implementation of the a decision in order to “relief from hazards threatening human health and safety; mitigation of threats to natural resources on NFS or adjacent lands; avoiding a loss of commodity value sufficient to jeopardize the agency’s ability to accomplish project objectives directly related to resource protection or restoration.”

The project on the Sunrise Fire which burned approximately 27,000 acres last summer, proposes harvesting about 2,718 acres of dead and dying trees. This represents roughly 11 percent of the National Forest Service land burned in the fire.

Both fires burned with varying severity and left a mosaic of burn patterns on the landscape that range from unburned islands to areas where tree crowns were completely consumed. The harvest units would be located within moderate to high tree mortality areas and will not create new openings. The roads will be maintained commensurate with timber hauling activities. This would include brushing, blading or surface reconditioning, and drainage improvements where needed according to the Forest Service proposal report.

Work is scheduled to being in late summer of 2018 and will be completed within two years. Tree planting could be ongoing for up to 10 years on approximately 9,500 acres for the Sunrise Fire and 5,000 acres for Sheep Gap, depending on funding and availability of planting stock according to the National Forest Service scoping letter. Depending on site conditions white pine, western larch, ponderosa pine and whitebark pine seedlings will be planted.

The Forest Service has received public comments over the past two months requesting recovery of economic value from the burned forest to benefit the local economy. Those, as well as other comments that recommend post-fire landscapes be left without management, have been put into consideration.

What the Forest Service is proposing is to include both salvage of economically feasible timber from accessible lands and to retain some burned areas without management. It is important to move forward with the salvage projects in a timely manner because the volume and quality of wood products deteriorates rapidly after fires according to the report.

Also insects, especially beetles, stain and decay fungi, and weather all deteriorate the wood. On average, product deterioration in the Sunrise and Sheep Gap project areas is expected be 10 to 15 percent in the first year after the fire and 30 percent or more in year two.

”Loss of timber volume and value results in an accompanying loss of economic benefits to communities. More importantly, as dead trees deteriorate, they pose substantial safety hazards to forest workers. Skyline yarding would be used to remove the majority of the fire-killed trees from within proposed salvage units. This yarding system requires hand-felling, resulting in exposure of sawyers and others to hazards. As time passes, the stability of fire-killed trees diminishes, putting workers at even higher risk,” the report states.

More information regarding the project can be found online at on the USDA website under the Lolo National Forest Service project page.

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