Forest Thinning Proposed
by Greg Moore
Current fire conditions deemed risk to homes, camps
The Sawtooth National Forest is proposing to thin 3,000 acres of forest near Alturas and Pettit lakes to reduce the risk of wildfire in an area that contains summer cabins and organization camps, as well as to generally improve forest health.
If approved by Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Kirk Flannigan, the Alturas-Pettit Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project could begin as early as July 2021.
The project is being done in partnership with the Sawtooth Valley Wildfire Collaborative, a local group formed in 2012 to identify and recommend wildfire risk-reduction strategies for the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin. It is composed of city and county government officials, private land owners, businesses, local groups interested in land management issues, emergency response organizations and other concerned citizens, according to a paper released by the organization in 2013.
The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comments on the proposed project by Aug. 7. A scoping report that describes the project can be found at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58415.
According to the report, there is a need to reduce fuels in specific locations to improve ability to control wildfires and to provide for safer evacuation routes.
The report notes that natural fire regimes have been disrupted since fire-suppression in the area began in the early 1900s. Furthermore, bark beetle-killed trees from an outbreak in the late 2010s have resulted in lots of dead trees on the ground, and increases in ladder fuels have increased the risk of fires rapidly transitioning to a crown fire.
The report states that many of the lodgepole pine stands within the project area have high levels of dwarf mistletoe, and the disease is spreading to young, healthy trees. Also, there has been an increase of lodgepole pine and subalpine fir within Douglas-fir stands. The result is that large, older Douglas fir trees are at higher risk of attack by bark beetles and there is a higher risk of stand replacement fires. Project team leader Thomas Stewart, an ecologist with the Sawtooth National Forest, said that’s because lodgepoles grow more densely than Douglas firs, allowing easier movement of beetles from one tree to another and using more groundwater.
The Forest Service also says many of the aspen stands in the area are declining as a result of conifer encroachment, and in many stands there aren’t enough young aspen suckers to sustain the clone. Removal of conifers would reduce shading and competition and create openings to stimulate suckering.
Most of the tree removal would occur around the perimeters of sagebrush meadows, where the stands are most dense. Cutting or transplanting conifer trees that have established in the meadows over the past 50 years or so could restore about 1,370 acres of sagebrush meadow habitat. Stewart said a 'mosaic pattern' of forest and meadows creates fuel breaks to slow the spread of wildfire and provide spaces for firefighters to stage their operations. He said the meadows also provide forage for elk, deer, pronghorn, birds and rodents, while the adjacent forested areas provide cover for the large animals.
The proposed action includes 955 acres of shaded fuel breaks designed to improve the ability to manage wildfire. Stewart said the plan is to leave the large trees while cutting the small ones that have grown up among them. Handcrews with chainsaws would cut snags and live lodgepole pine, subalpine fir and Douglas-fir trees up to 12 inches in diameter to create spaces of 10-30 feet wide.
The project would remove all the larger lodgepole pine trees on 12 acres of stands where there are well-established young lodgepoles. According to the report, nearly all the overstory trees in these areas have high levels of dwarf mistletoe. Removing the infected overstory trees would reduce the potential for further infection of younger trees with dwarf mistletoe and promote faster tree growth and development.
In its 2013 paper titled "Strategic Recommendations for Wildfire Hazard Mitigation," the Sawtooth Valley Wildfire Collaborative recommended that the area between Banner Summit and Galena Summit be divided into six protection zones, each of which was given a priority for fire mitigation actions. The upper Sawtooth Valley was given a low priority.
Stanley Mayor Steve Botti, a founding member of the Sawtooth Valley Wildfire Collaborative, said in an interview that following completion of fuel-treatment projects in the Cape Horn and Redfish Lake areas, "the feeling was that it was time to address some of these concerns in the upper end of the valley."
Botti said the proposed project appears to meet most of the objectives of the Wildfire Collaborative.
Idaho Conservation League Conservation Associate Josh Johnson, at the organization’s Ketchum office, said that upon initial viewing, the ICL supports the proposed project.
"ICL appreciates that this proposal grew out of a collaborative vision to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve forest health throughout the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin," Johnson said.
He said the organization looks forward to reviewing the proposal in further detail to ensure that it does not harm water quality or wildlife.
Electronic comments on the proposed project may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org; please indicate "Alturas-Pettit Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project" in the subject line. Comments may also be submitted by mail to Sawtooth National Recreation Area, 5 North Fork Canyon Road, Ketchum, ID 83340.
Agencies Working to Fix Bark-Beetle Problems by Wiggins & Troyer, Idaho Mountain Express, 9/6/6
Beetle 'Epidemic' Rends Northwest Forests by Associated Press, Environmental News Net, 3/24/6
Beetles Eat at Sawtooth Pines in Natural Cycle by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 7/21/4
SNRA Battles Pine Beetle "Epidemic" by Jon Hanian, KBCI TV, 7/20/4
Pine Beetle Infestation Creates Fire Danger by Jennifer Sandmann, Times-News, 5/30/4
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs