Forest Service proposes Cruzane Mountain Project

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THE CRUZANE Mountain Project draft proposal. The project will manage Lolo National Forest’s wildfire hazards on Cruzane Mountain near Saltese to be implemented in 2024 after a finalized decision. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

When homeowner Kent Moeller looks out his window, he sees a beautiful landscape of dense ponderosa pine, lodgepole, and Doug Fir trees just beyond his backyard in the Lolo National Forest near Saltese.

Moeller is one of several residents whose property borders the U.S. Forest Service’s Cruzane Mountain Project site, where they are forming proposals on a fuel thinning project, which will be implemented in 2024. The project will occur on Cruzane Mountain near Saltese, where substantial wildfire potential exists.

Property owners, Forest Service officials and other individuals attended an open house at the Savenac Tree Nursery in Haugan on April 9 to discuss the project proposals. It also gave the public an opportunity to voice their comments and concerns.

“There are no angry participants here,” Moeller said.

With unanimous support for the project, property owners are still concerned about aesthetics, avalanche hazards, elk habitat, watersheds, snowmobile trails and reforestation. Property owners want to ensure their properties don’t fall victim to a clear-cut area, which translates to five trees cut per acre. “We live here because of the beautiful mountains and trees,” Moeller said.

The open house addressed fire and fuels, vegetation and reforestation, and roads and transportation.

Fires and fuels

Superior District Fuels Technician Josh Stroot discussed the prescribed burn proposals, a hazard reduction burn used to for forest management, that would be initiated on Cruzane Mountain.

Josh said teams would start at the top of Cruzane Mountain and gradually burn downward. Crews would burn the understory and slash (cut material from trees) to remove the fuels for a potential wildfire disaster.

“It’ll be a lot prettier to do it now,” Stroot said.

Stroot said crews will use a feathering technique when burning, which creates a more aesthetically pleasing look instead of clearcutting.

“It will mitigate a major concern I’ve had for years,” said property owner Charles Bajza.

Some concerns resulting from burns include aesthetics, potential avalanche zones and property value decrease. All residents agree that at least some prescribed burning is necessary, but they are worried about excessive burning.

Vegetation

Silviculturist Andy Kies discussed the forest health and reforestation following the prescribed burns.

If the budget allows, the Forest Service will plant larch and white pine trees on the north face of Cruzane and larch and ponderosas on the south face. The Forest Service is required by law to reforest the burned area within five years. The area will also rely on natural regeneration.

Kies says the general tree species composition consists of lodgepole, ponderosa, Douglass fir and larch trees.

Historically, less Douglas fir trees existed in the area but following wildfires in the early 1900s, the species began to populate the area more. The Douglas fir is a common host to pathogens and spreads diseases like root rot, a fungus that kills tree roots.

Roads and transportation

Timber Management Assistant Mike Mueller discussed the road construction and reconstruction that will occur once the project begins. Crews will reconstruct Cruzane road and there will be proposed roads for firelines on the backside.

Road construction posed threats for snowmobile and ATV trails in the area.

“Snowmobiles are very important economically,” resident Brooke Lincoln said.” “There’s gotta be some effort made to accommodate this.”

The next step

Superior District Ranger Carole Johnson said the next step in the Cruzane Mountain Project will be a field trip in May or June to scope the area, and hopefully finalize a decision in summer 2020.

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