by Sonja Lee
Great Falls Tribune
Helena National Forest officials would like to harvest 20 million to 25 million board feet of commercial timber from an area that burned in the Snow Talon Fire near Lincoln.
The August fire charred about 37,700 acres, and the Forest Service is asking to log about 2,700 acres to make use of the trees damaged and killed by fire. The Forest Service will complete an Environmental Impact Statement, reviewing the potential effects of the proposal.
At least one conservation organization doesn’t think the proposal is worthwhile.
Michael Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said he is concerned the timber sale could interfere with grizzly bear habitat and potentially degrade the quality of the Blackfoot River. Garrity, however, said he is optimistic that the organization can work with the Forest Service to minimize the potential problems and keep the matter out of court.
Environmental appeals and litigation have halted recent logging proposals on land in the Kootenai and Lolo National Forests.
To log the Lincoln area, about a half-mile of road and 30 helicopter landing areas are being proposed. The harvest would primarily be done by helicopters, and it would be completed in the fall and winter to minimize impacts on the land, said Amber Kamps, Lincoln district ranger.
“We certainly are looking at all the mitigation measures,” Kamps said. “We want a project that can move forward.”
Only dead or dying trees would be removed, but some green trees also could have to be cut. Logging would not take place in any roadless, riparian or research natural areas.
The Forest Service also will work to promote long-term water quality, maintain existing road systems and minimize erosion, Kamps said. Road drainage features could be improved and ditch-relief culverts also may be installed.
“We are going to be looking an upgrading roads,” she said.
The logging is being proposed so the Forest Service can recover some of the value of the burned timber before it decays. The project also will include an economic opportunity in the community, Kamps said.
Garrity said he expects the logging proposal to be a losing proposition. He said the market is flooded with salvage timber, and the Forest Service stands to lose about $4 million.
“If they go ahead with what they are proposing, losing $4 million on a timber sale in grizzly bear habitat and potentially putting sediment into a popular fishing stream, we will definitely challenge this,” he said.
Kamps said there is a big demand for the timber. Shortly after the fires, hazard trees were removed from area roadsides, bundled and sold.
“I sold those for $400 per 1,000 board feet, which is an incredible price,” she said.
There were six bidders on the project, she said. Kamps said she expects the larger Lincoln project also will attract a good number of bids.
The Forest Service will take comments on the project for the next month and then prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement. If the project is not challenged or delayed, logging could be OK’d by June, and work could begin in the fall.