Lolo Forest OKs timber project

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Lolo National Forest will move forward with a project near Plains and Thompson Falls aimed at improving forest health in an area adjacent to where a major wildfire burned 2017.

The 28,000-acre Swamp Eddy project is on the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District in Sanders County. The final decision issued Jan. 8 authorizes forest treatments on approximately 3,637 acres outside the Sheep Gap Fire perimeter, which charred about 25,000 acres in 2017 along the Montana 200 corridor.

The Swamp Eddy project was originally initiated in 2016 in response to concerns about hazardous fuel conditions and declining forest health in the area. However, about 16,000 acres of the project area was burned by the Sheep Gap Fire.

Forest Supervisor Carolyn Upton said that due to the overall high severity of the fire, the need to conduct vegetation treatments no longer exists within the fire perimeter. However, forest management needs remain for the unburned forest within the project area.

“These unburned areas are still susceptible to stand-replacing wildfires, insects, disease and drought,” the Forest Service stated in a media release announcing the final decision. “The high number of trees per acre has created unhealthy forest conditions resulting in competitive stress for limited growing space, water, nutrients and sunlight. Additionally, there is an emerging outbreak of defoliator insects and fir engraver beetle within the project area that will result in tree mortality without treatment.”

Dense and insect-infested vegetation will be removed as part of the project, while tree species like ponderosa pine, western larch and western white pine will be left in order to promote vegetation diversity.

Commercial treatments in the project area include 152 acres of intermediate timber harvest, 226 acres of small tree commercial thinning and 1,553 acres of regeneration timber harvest. Non-commercial treatments, mostly prescribed burns, are planned for 1,706 acres.

Work is expected to begin this spring.

Additionally, the project will conduct road work and improve a dispersed recreation opportunity at the mouth of Swamp Creek on the Clark Fork River, the Forest noted. About 79 miles of roads will be decommissioned, but Upton said those roads are mostly impassable and overgrown, or already restricted to motorized use. Currently drivable public motorized access will not be affected by the project, Upton added.

This final decision will also amend the Lolo Forest Plan by adding approximately 527 acres to the suitable timber base.

For additional information please visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/lolo/ or call the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District at 406-826-3821.

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