Salvage timber project scaled back

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The Flathead National Forest on Monday announced it is opting for a smaller logging footprint in a salvage timber project slated for the area burned by the 2015 Trail Creek Fire.

The draft decision, signed by forest Supervisor Chip Weber, would involve commercial timber harvest on 834 acres, less than two-thirds of what the forest had initially proposed as its preferred alternative in June. The project is expected to produce 4.3 million board-feet of timber, about 15 percent of the forestís average annual yield.

Located about two miles east of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station, the project includes restoration work on the more than 21,000-acre portion of the Spotted Bear Ranger District torched by the fire. It calls for planting 3,000 acres with conifer trees and 500 acres with a combination of trees and shrubs.

Project manager Matt Shaffer said the alternative the forest ultimately selected arose after the initial scoping period, during which concerns arose about impacts on protected wildlife.

ďIn general, they thought it reached the right balance between minimizing negative effects to bears and minimizing sedimentation increases, while still providing some wood for the local economy,Ē he said Monday.

The lower-impact project alternative was developed after the salvage work was first proposed in January. Public comments raised concerns about displacement of grizzly bears due to motorized activity during the non-denning season and impacts to fish species from a proposed forest road reopening.

As originally proposed, the project would have required an amendment to the forest plan that guides management of the Flathead National Forest, due to the conflicts with grizzly habitat. The alternative announced as the forestís choice on Monday does not.

The alternative also scales down temporary roads from 5.3 miles to 1.6 miles and reduces the new system road mileage from 7.9 to 3.3 miles. The new roads would be placed into storage after harvesting activities wrap up.

Thirty to 50 hazard trees would be removed in recreation areas and along some roads and trails.

According to the forestís draft decision notice, 74 groups and individuals submitted comments on the project during the 30-day comment period that ended last month.

Only those who submitted comments during the previous public comment periods are eligible to file objections to the forestís draft decision, and those objections must be based on the comments.

Beginning Monday, objectors have 45 calendar days to file objections to the project. A final decision is expected in November.

The draft decision notice, environmental assessment and other documents related to the project can be viewed at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=48619.

For additional information on the project, the objection process and the requirements for filing an objection, contact Shaffer at 406-758-3508.

Reporter Sam Wilson may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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