Forest Service Issues Draft Decision for the Sawmill-Petty Project
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: December 30, 2020

HUSON, Mont. – The Forest Service has issued the Draft Decision for the Sawmill-Petty project, selecting a modification of Alternative B. This fuels reduction and forest health project is located south of I-90 and Alberton, MT on the Ninemile Ranger District. The release of the Draft Decision initiates a 45-day objection period.

The Selected Alternative will reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfire and associated smoke to nearby communities by increasing forest resilience to drought, insects and disease; retaining large, fire-tolerant trees; and reducing understory and ladder fuels that create conditions for crown fire, or fire that moves from the ground into the tree canopy. The project will also provide a transportation system that meets public, administrative, and fire response needs, and contributes to the sustainable supply of timber to local economies.

The Selected Alternative modified Alternative B by dropping 3.6 miles of permanent road construction and associated treatment units, as well as dropping treatment in three additional units based on field verification of lynx habitat. These modifications to Alternative B were based on public comment and further analysis by Forest Service resource specialists.

“Thoughtful public feedback and analysis helped us arrive at this draft decision moving the project closer to implementation and our objectives of decreasing the risk of large, high-intensity wildfires, enhancing firefighting effectiveness and public and firefighter safety, and improving forest health,” said Eric Tomasik, Ninemile District Ranger.

The treatments will improve the current forest conditions within the Sawmill-Petty project area. Thinning, harvest, and prescribed fire will maintain and restore more open and mature forests and decrease the potential for large fire events and crown fires by treating surface and ladder fuels. The treatments will favor the growth and retention of mature, fire-tolerant trees such as ponderosa pine and western larch.

The Draft Decision includes a programmatic Forest Plan amendment to change Management Area (MA) designation on about 7,076 acres, and a site-specific Forest Plan amendment to exempt specific areas of the project from MA standards related to big game cover/forage ratios.  This allows the project to better address fuels reduction and forest health priorities while still providing cover and forage habitat for elk and other big game.

This Draft Decision is subject to the Pre-decisional Administrative Review Process (Objection Process). Objections will only be accepted from those who have previously submitted specific written comments during scoping or other designated opportunities for public comment. Objections must be submitted within 45 calendar days following the publication of a legal notice in the Missoulian.

Objections, including attachments, must be filed via mail, express delivery, or messenger service to: Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804; FAX to (406) 329-3411; email to appeals-northern-regional-office@usda.gov; or by hand-delivery (Monday- Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays).

For more information visit the Lolo National Forest project page here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/lolo/landmanagement/projects or call the Ninemile Ranger District at 406-626-5201.