The Lolo National Forest has approved harvest of approximately 2,650 acres of the Sheep Gap Fire that burned over 25,000 acres last summer near Plains. “My decision allows salvage of approximately 22 million board feet of burned timber, removal of hazard trees along 91 miles of forest roads, and planting of seedlings on 5000 acres where natural regeneration is not expected to occur,” said Sara Mayben, acting Forest Supervisor for the Lolo National Forest. The decision also authorizes relocation of a portion of the Sheep Gap Road to avoid an historically unstable area locally known as the Sheep Gap Slide.
The Lolo expects to advertise two timber sales to implement the Sheep Gap Fire Salvage project in August. The sales will recover economic value to support local communities and offer logs to Montana’s forest products industry. In part, timber sale receipts will fund tree planting and road work necessary to stabilize the burned area.
The Chief of the Forest Service recently approved an Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) for the project in order to facilitate timely recovery of some of the burned timber before product deterioration occurs. The ESD acknowledges the urgent nature of the situation by removing the pre-decisional objection process which typically adds three months to the planning timeline if an objection is received.
According to Dave Hattis, District Ranger for the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District, the Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared for the project summarized three alternatives including the No Action, Modified Proposed Action, and Expanded Proposed Action. These options were developed in response to public comment received on the Forest’s initial October 31, 2017 proposal. The project was carefully designed to avoid environmental harm considering the sensitive nature of the post-burn environment with the largest of the alternatives proposing salvage on only 13% of the burned area.
“I considered the range of public comment and findings of the environmental analysis when making my decision,” said Mayben. The Forest Service received a variety of public comments, from those opposed to salvage and those who felt that more salvage should be proposed. The analysis prepared for the project found no signficant impacts associated with the three alternatives. The majority of the project is located in an area allocated to timber management in the Lolo Forest Plan. Habitat for the threatened Canada lynx was avoided, and streams were buffered to ensure protection of water quality and habitat for fish. The limited scope and scale of project activities are not expected to disrupt grizzly bear that may be present in the area.
For more information, please contact the Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger District at (406) 826-3821. Project information is available on the Lolo National Forest website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/lolo/landmanagement/projects.