Plains, MT. – The Lolo National Forest is proceeding with salvage of burned timber on the Copper King Fire after a decision was signed June, 6 by Forest Supervisor, Timothy Garcia, which authorizes timber salvage and roadside hazard tree removal on approximately 1,761 acres. The decision also approved three miles of temporary road construction, 88 miles of road maintenance, 6,000 acres of tree planting, and motorized use restrictions on 5 miles of trail. Road and watershed stabilization work will commence this month, with burned tree salvage beginning in July after award of timber sale contracts.
The Copper King Fire started last summer on July 31, burning quickly across steep slopes in the Thompson River drainage approximately five miles east of Thompson Falls. After almost three months of firefighting and numerous evacuations, the fire was contained on October, 14 and later controlled on November, 28. Topography, heavy fuels, and weather caused the fire to burn at high severity, leaving few live trees remaining across much of the area. Approximately 29,000 acres were burned including private, State, and National Forest System lands.
“We recognized a need to recover some economic value from the area, and therefore initiated planning for salvage even before the fire was fully contained,” said Dave Hattis, District Ranger for the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District. Hattis noted Sanders County has unemployment rates nearly twice that of the state average. “After the fire, we proceeded forward with Burned Area Emergency Restoration (BAER) treatments to stabilize roads and soils, reduce weed spread, and address other post-fire threats to the public. The Copper King Fire Salvage project will go beyond BAER by removing additional roadside hazards trees and maintaining roads in the project area. We plan to offer two timber sales that will remove almost 14 million board feet of burned timber from the area,” Hattis said. According to the Decision Notice, the project will contribute to maintaining forest industry infrastructure in Montana, provide local employment, and benefit the community.
An Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) was requested and approved by the Chief of the Forest Service to proceed with project activities this summer before timber product deterioration occurs. Burned trees can lose as much as 33% of their value the first year after a fire causing a loss in receipts that help pay for other forest restoration activities such as road maintenance and tree planting. The ESD reduced the project timeline by over three months; waiving the pre-decisional administrative review process commonly known as the objection process. According to Hattis, “Without the ESD, we would not have been able to complete timber salvage until the summer of 2018 because it would not have been possible to start the required road work this fall when inclement weather typically prohibits forest road maintenance activities.”
Salvage on adjacent private lands was completed last fall and early winter. Salvage on State lands is ongoing. Although some public comments were raised about the environmental effects of fire salvage, the project will treat only a small portion of the burned area, leaving almost 91 percent of the area to natural post-fire processes.