Ashland, MT (June 29, 2023) – The Custer Gallatin Forest today released the Final Decision for the South Otter Landscape Restoration and Resiliency Project, located approximately six miles south of Ashland, MT, and Highway 212. Project activities will take place within a 292,000-acre project area in the southern portion of the Ashland Ranger District. The Final Decision and associated analysis documents are available online at South Otter Project.
The Forest will implement Alternative 2 of the Environmental Assessment with additional considerations reached as part of objection resolution agreements. Implementation of the South Otter project could begin this fall and continue in phases for up to 20 years. Project activities include prescribed fire, commercial harvest, non-commercial thinning, and focused tree planting as well as road system improvements and road decommissioning. Overall, the goal of the project is to reduce the impacts of future wildfires by creating conditions conducive to low impact and low intensity fire events. Specifically, implementing this project will:
· Improve overall forest resiliency in ponderosa pine forested areas.
· Provide for biological and structural diversity.
· Reduce the risk of large scale, high severity wildfire.
· Reduce fuel loading in forested stands.
· Enhance native grasslands and forested areas.
· Provide for local jobs, services, and products.
The Final Decision reflects agreements reached with 2 objectors via the objection resolution process. These considerations include dropping commercial timber activities and associated road work in the Reanus and Taylor Creek areas, awarding any timber sale contracts within a 10-year period; annual implementation workshops; , hosting a public meeting within 45 days of release of the Final Decision; and completing an implementation and monitoring summary every 3 years.
Since 1995, nearly 60% of the landscape surrounding the Ashland community has been affected by large fires resulting in a change from forested landscapes to grass and shrubland. Furthermore, a substantial portion of this project area falls within the Powder River County and Rosebud County Community Wildfire Protection Plans. These plans encourage the Forest Service to consider potential effects on the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) in fuel reduction programs, and to use county values at risk (i.e., structures, communication sites, pasture and cropland) in considering project locations and proposed treatments.
The Forest will host a public meeting (in person and virtually) to discuss project implementation on July 25th, 2023 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be at the Ashland Public School (8 Old Mission Road. Ashland, MT 59003) in the lunchroom. The virtual public meeting will be held via Microsoft Teams at Microsoft Teams meeting; or call in (audio only) (202) 650-0123, passcode: 22233015#. For additional information please visit us online at Custer Gallatin National Forest or on Facebook.