Logging picks up on Westside Bypass GNA

Forest Service personnel and a large logging company have transformed thousands of acres west of Seeley Lake from thick forests to more fire resistant and healthy stands.

Work on the Westside Bypass Good Neighbor Authority picked up again for the summer on July 15. Roughly 4,866 acres will be thinned by next year. The project is roughly halfway complete since starting in 2021, according to Seeley Lake District Ranger Quinn Carver.

Timber company WeyerHaeuser, one of the owners of the most private timberland in the U.S., won the bid for the project.

WeyerHaeuser has worked both in the winter and in the summer to log trees. Meanwhile, the Forest Service has been working on clearing vegetation in different areas.

One main goal for the Forest Service is to create a better fire barrier with heavily wooded areas and residences. Carver said several fires have threatened

the western side of Seeley, especially the 2007 Jocko Lakes fire, which burned into the project area before firefighters held the line.

Not only is there a high level of density in the area, but there is an abundance of dead and dying trees. According to the Forest Service decision memo, pine beetles and western gall rust have killed 40-70% of lodgepole pines in the project area.

"There's a lot of fuel on the ground. It's a nightmare waiting to happen," Carver said.

On the Westside Bypass Road, logged sections of the project have little to no understory and feature larger ponderosa pine and western larch, with heavy machinery tracks that should disappear by next year, Carver said. The site has a categorical exclusion for an Environmental Analysis or Environmental Impact Review. Wetlands and other important wildlife habitats were protected, and restoration is required to fix torn up roads and maintain soil health.

On the other side, the timber is still heavy, and firs infected by beetles are dying in the area. It's also easy to see where winter and summer harvest occurred, as the winter work still has crushed dead and down debris. Much of that will be slash burned by the Forest Service.

Carver, Fuels Technician Donovan Suko and Fire Management Officer Adam Carr overlooked a completed wooded area from a hillside. Carr pointed out a private residence poking through the trees at the border of the cut and said this project makes the public more safe.

"A year ago, if a lightning strike sparked something like a mile away, it could become pretty dangerous and burn really hot," Carr said. "Now just the grass would burn in this area."

The project was made possible by the Good Neighbor Authority, which was put into law in 2014. The Forest Service was able to appraise the value of the project, sell it to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and then the state bids it to lumber companies.

Pyramid Mountain Lumber made a bid, but could not match WeyerHaeuser's bid of $30.06 per ton of sawlogs. That total comes out to roughly 4,924 board feet, or $1,040,587.02.

With the project, the Forest Service gets extra profits placed in a trust fund for more conservation work. Carver said this system has allowed the Service to get more consistent funding for projects when federal budgets wane.

It's not all smiles, however. Two cyclists pulled Carver aside while on a site tour, frustrated with the burn piles near trails. The cyclists claimed children were having a hard time getting around the burn piles, and that signs warning of work were placed in the wrong area.

"When are they going to clean the trail!?" One woman asked. "Y'all should at least burn it soon."

Carver said these comments are common, as recreationalists and residents might not be aware of projects in the area, let alone the pages of plans and environmental assessments that got the Forest Service to this point.

"People want instant gratification," Carver said. "This work, conservation work, just takes time."


Reader Comments(0)