South Otter Draft Decision Notice Available for Landscape Restoration and Resiliency Project
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: January 18, 2023

Ashland, MT – January 18, 2023 – A draft Decision Notice is available for the Ashland Ranger District, Custer Gallatin National Forest’s South Otter Landscape Restoration and Resiliency Project, located approximately six miles south of Ashland, MT, and Highway 212.  The project encompasses 292,000 acres of National Forest System lands making up primarily the southern portion of the Ashland Ranger District and substantially overlapping the Powder River and Rosebud Counties Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which aim to identify and protect values at risk for the respective communities.

“Over a third of the of the Ashland Ranger District’s landscape has burned since 2012, with high severity and high intensity, resulting in substantial levels of tree mortality and vegetation change,” said Ashland District Ranger Ron Hecker.  “Additionally, when walking across much of the South Otter project area we have an abundance of seedling and sapling trees that burned prior to 2012. This project uses forest management tools, such as prescribed burning and thinning to reduce negative effects of future wildfires, while also enhancing conditions that welcome frequent low-intensity fire events.”

This project will treat this landscape over the next 8–20-years, utilizing prescribed fire (184,150 acres), commercial harvest (26,350 acres), non-commercial thinning (11,165 acres) and focused tree-planting efforts (39,940 acres). Treatment objectives include:

  • improving overall forest resiliency in ponderosa pine forested areas,
  • providing for biological and structural diversity,
  • reducing the risk of large-scale catastrophic wildfire and,
  • reducing fuel loading in forested stands.

Proposed treatments are also designed to refresh native grasslands and forested areas, along with providing local jobs, services, and products (estimated 139 jobs/$7.0 million in labor income).

Prescribed burns would increase plant forage, palatability and yield 3-5 years post burn.  Grasses and forbs are expected to increase and benefit big game wildlife species in both the short and long-term. Any old growth conifer patches would be retained on the landscape. Approximately 25 miles of system roads that are closed to the public, but available for administrative use are proposed to be decommissioned.  Additionally, up to 168 miles of temporary roads may be constructed to facilitate commercial timber harvest, that would be temporary on the landscape, decommissioned and closed after completion of vegetation treatments.

To review documents, including project record visit online at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58396 or www.fs.usda.gov/custergallatin, select managing the land, then select projects to navigate to all forest-wide projects.  Objections are open for 45-days from the day after the legal notice published in the Billings Gazette (anticipated January 18, 2023) and is limited to those that have previously submitted specific written comments regarding the proposed project during scoping or other designated opportunity for public comment.  Issues raised in objections must be based on previously submitted timely, specific written comments regarding the proposed project, unless based on new information arising after the designated comment opportunities §218.8(c). All public comments received are part of the project record.

Choose to opt-in to participate in forest-wide project notifications or topic-based projects, depending upon interests. For general information follow Custer Gallatin National Forest: https://www.facebook.com/CusterGallatinNationalForest or on Twitter @CusterNF@GallatinNF.

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