Forest Seeking Public Comments on Castle Mountains Project
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: March 30, 2018

Beginning immediately members of the public are asked to review and provide comments on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for vegetative treatments on 21,703 acres within the Castle Mountains. All public comments need to be submitted within the 45-day comment period, no later than April 30, 2018.

Project documents are available on online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=41955 for public review. An interactive project map can be found online at https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=0a0b385c0c684cc2b260c9587b3f336b

Due to a combination of fire suppression and, more recently, the insect infestation of primarily mountain pine beetle and spruce budeworm in the Castle Mountains, forest specialists completed a landscape analysis to evaluate what management activities would help restore this ecosystem to a healthy and more resilient forest. Based on that, along with the project-specific analyses specialists have done, the Forest proposes to use mechanical thinning (use of mechanical equipment for tree removal), regeneration harvest (to create areas with multi-aged or “an uneven age class of” trees), improvement cutting (to leave the most desirable species/type of tree for the conditions within a specific area), precommercial thinning (resulting in a more open stand of vigorous and diverse trees), and prescribed fire, as the primary management actions to reduce fuel loading and conifer encroachment and restore the area to a mix of meadows and forested areas.

The Castle Mountains are an island mountain range located between the towns of White Sulphur Springs and Martindale; and drains to both the Smith River and Musselshell River watersheds. Most of the Castle Mountain range is currently outside of its “Fire Regime Condition Class,” meaning it has had a lack of natural fire disturbance for long enough that the fuel loading has become a hazard that needs to be addressed.

By fostering greater landscape resiliency within the project area, the Forest will be reducing the potential for intense wildfires as well as improving the overall forest structure and diversity, reestablishing a meadow-type ecosystem, and restoring populations of Whiebark pine and aspen. Project activities are proposed to occur within the Inventoried Roadless Area (IRA) of the Castle Mountains; however, all activities within IRAs would be consistent with the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule and maintain values associated with the Willow Creek Municipal Watershed.

Members of the public are asked to review the specific management activities detailed in the three action-alternatives and one no-action alternative, all of which are outlined in the DEIS. All public comments can be submitted one of four ways, no later than April 30, 2018:

  • Email your comment to comments-northern-lewisclark-white-sulphur-sprg@fs.fed.us with “Castle Mountains Restoration Project” in the subject line;
  • Physically Mail: White Sulphur Springs Ranger Station, P.O. Box A, White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645
  • Fax: 406-547-6023
  • Hand Deliver: White Sulphur Springs Ranger District at 204 West Folsom in White Sulpur Springs, or to the Great Falls Forest Service office at 1220 38th Street North.