The Lolo National Forest has announced the approval to harvest approximately 3,494 acres of the Rice Ridge Fire that burned over 160,000 acres (106,487 acres on the Lolo National Forest) last summer near Seeley Lake.
“My decision allows salvage of approximately 26 million board feet of fire affected timber, removal of hazard trees along 25 miles of forest roads and reforestation, in the form of natural regeneration and planting, on 16,526 acres” said Tim Garcia, Forest Supervisor for the Lolo National Forest.
The decision also authorizes storage, decommissioning and relocation of several roads to improve water quality and fish habitat in Spring Creek and Morrell Creek. The Lolo expects to advertise four timber sales to implement the Rice Ridge Fire Salvage project later this month and in early October. 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 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 Rachel Feigley, District Ranger for the Seeley Lake Ranger District, the Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared for the project summarized three alternatives including the No Action, Modified Proposed Action, and Alternative with No Temporary Roads. These options were developed in response to public comment received on the Forest’s initial December 21, 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 less than 5% of the burned area on the Lolo National Forest.
“I considered the range of public comment and findings of the environmental analysis when making my decision,” said Garcia. 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 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.