By Colleen Kesterson
Pathfinder 

Comments requested on restoration project in the Swan

 

November 15, 2018



SWAN VALLEY - Flathead National Forest staff met and shared with the residents of the Swan Valley the concepts of the Mid-Swan Landscape Restoration and Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Project at a meeting held Nov. 8. Following the presentation, attendees asked questions of the various disciplines, viewed interactive maps of the project and submitted comments. The deadline to comment is Nov. 23 so they can be included in the review and analysis process.

The Mid-Swan Project comprises nearly 70,000 acres located between the Swan Mountains on the east and the Mission Mountains to the west, extending south from Swan Lake to the Condon community. .

The purpose of the project is to improve the biodiversity of the area in light of climate change by removing vegetation, planting trees which historically resist drought and reduce fuel buildup in the WUI to create a safer environment for residents. FNF supervisor Chip Weber said that besides a healthy ecosystem, the plan benefits the community by creating a level of protection and security in and around homes in the area.


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“We can definitely reduce the risk to those things you love and value,” Weber said. He added they will work hand-in-hand with the state on this project over the next 20 years.

Weber said that the team of “high powered” scientists were paired with local district staff with practical experience on the ground to produce the draft document. Blending that with local residents’ practical experience is very important to the project.

Some actions proposed for treatment in the Mid-Swan to address the (aquatic) waterway, (terrestrial) landscape and WUI challenges are:

• Storm proof (decommission, store or improve) nearly 167 miles of the 570 miles of existing Forest Service roads which includes 20 miles within riparian areas. All the roads included in the project are currently closed to public motorized access and impassable because of vegetation.

• Construct artificial (analog) beaver dams at nine stream sites to increase water holding areas in cold water drainages which benefits native fish

• Replace five known culverts to specifications so that native fish can gain access to upstream habitat.

• Thin dense vegetation with treatment actions in a portion of the riparian management zones which would reduce crown fire risk

• Reduce ladder fuels and crown fire hazard by planting ponderosa pine, western larch and Douglas-fir on approximately 24,000 acres and in areas adjacent to old forest structure to reduce risk of fire to them

• Protect lynx habitat on up to 16,000 acres

• Prune remaining western white pine to reduce blister rust and plant resistant trees

• Restore whitebark pine stands and plant (cache) blister rust resistant seeds

Forest Service staff recorded comments from residents during the meeting. Comments included:

• One resident would like to have more thinning than prescribed fire as a treatment option.

• Nature does a better job than man. Can live beavers be introduced and have them build the dams in the nine stream sites? What caused the beavers to decline?

• Will there be notification or a timeline as the treatments move around the landscape in the future?

Questions were also asked (bold) to which Forest Service personnel responded:

Is there a timeline of this project? The FS anticipates implementation of the plan in 2020.

• Is this the only comment period? No, there will be more coming after the draft Environmental Impact Statement in summer 2019 and the draft Record of Decision in the fall of 2019 along with public meetings.

• Will the residents be able to comment or object much later (in 10 years) when the treatment is in progress? There will be only one decision but the Forest Service will make sure it is still consistent with the plan and adjust the treatment if the new information requires it.


• Are roads being closed? Primary public use roads will remain open while other roads will be storm proofed meaning they will be treated either by decommissioning, storing them or improving them to minimize erosion and sediment delivery to waterways.


Swan Valley Connections is sponsoring a field trip to discuss and look at the proposed project Friday, Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Meet at Condon Work Center off Highway 83, wear warm clothing and bring lunch.

To view the scoping document and/or to comment online about the project, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54853

Comments can also be submitted via email to bslrp@fs.fed.us;mail to the Swan Lake Ranger District, Attn. Sandy Mack Regional Office, 24 Fort Missoula Rd., Missoula, MT 59804 or hand deliver to 200 Ranger Station Road, Bigfork, MT, 59911.

 

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