Thursday, June 23, 2016
Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests continues response to 2015 fires
Personnel on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, regulatory agencies, and partners, continue to work together to provide visitors with safe access and restore the land and infrastructure affected by the 2015 fires.
Continued activities include Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER), working with partners to address needs on non-forest system lands, hazard tree removal along roads, administrative and recreation sites, and salvage of dead and dying trees.
In the summer of 2015, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests had over 250 fires. Over 25 of those fires were large incidents and total acres burned was in excess of 192,000.
Forest personnel addressed the needs of each fire independently, and continue to address post-fire and landscape needs with the same rationale.
Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams arrived on forest and began to assess emergency needs within fire perimeters as the fires were still burning. The result of this critical work was a request and the receipt of $1.1 million to do emergency repair work caused by the fires.
The BAER assessments do not include long-term restoration needs on the landscape. The BAER recommendations are time-sensitive and forest personnel have been working on these projects since the fall of 2015 and continue to implement emergency repair work.
Potential threats to visitors and agency personnel include flooding and debris flows, hazard trees, and rock fall along trails and at trailheads, developed recreation sites, and dispersed areas that are within, downstream or downslope of burned areas.
The projects include culvert replacements, emergency hazard tree removal at campgrounds and other areas, and invasive plant control. Implementation of this work may cause short-term closures in campgrounds and along roads and trails, but will ultimately provide forest visitors long-term access.
Forest personnel are active members of the North Central Idaho Wildfire Restoration Group (NCIWRG), previously called the North Idaho Wildfire Response Group.
The group was formed as the smoke began to clear and multiple agencies recognized the need to come together collectively and address the landscape affected by fire in an “all lands” approach. Work continues as agencies compile information on post-fire restoration needs in the five-county area.
In May, the group hosted a workshop for the public entitled, “Life After the Fires: Living for Today, Planning for Tomorrow.” Information on creating fire-wise communities, post-fire restoration needs and opportunities identified by NCIWRG’s Technical Committee, and a presentation by Dr. Penny Morgan from the University of Idaho on Past, Present, and Future Fires was provided to private landowners in attendance.
In addition to the active participation of forest personnel, the forest helped sponsor the event.
Throughout the late fall of 2015 and into the Spring of 2016, the forest has proposed and sought public comment on a variety of projects which include addressing hazard tree removal along certain roads, administrative sites, recreation sites, salvage of burned trees, and removal of dead and dying trees affected by insects, disease, fire, or a combination of conditions.
Forest personnel continue to evaluate and modify our projects as necessary with respect to public comments, additional data collection, and new analyses.
The Roadside, Administrative, and Recreation Site Maintenance hazard tree removal, Woodrat, and Upper Lolo draft Environmental Assessments (EA) have been available on the forest website at http://prdp2fs.ess.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/projects/nezperceclearwater/landmanagement/projects?sortby=0&archive=0 for public review and comment since May 7, 2016. To date, general comments from two entities have been received. Below is a summary of proposed projects and their current status:
In response to public comments received, the Lost Hat/Snowy Summit decision has been rescinded and we will be incorporating this project, along with portions of the Roadside, Administrative, and Recreation Site Maintenance hazard tree removal project that are not immediate safety and infrastructure hazards, into the proposed Upper Lolo Environmental Assessment project.
The Upper Lolo project encompasses a cluster of fires that burned in the tributaries to Lolo Creek, east of Pierce and Weippe. The previously submitted Emergency Situation Determination request for the Upper Lolo project will be withdrawn and the proposed action will be published in our paper of record, the Lewiston Morning Tribune, and a 30-day notice and public comment will soon be available.
Some public comments on the Chair Point, Van Keating, and Big Hill salvage projects indicated a high degree of concern. Reduced viability during layout, rapid deterioration of the wood product, and public concern from some organizations has led to the decision to drop these salvage projects.
The Deadwood project encompasses part of the Deadwood fire perimeter and is located on the Red River Ranger District, near Elk City and Orogrande. This project is sanitation and salvage and includes removal of dead and dying trees affected by insects, disease and/or fire. Forest employees are finalizing the analysis and a decision will be forthcoming on this project.
The Boulder area salvage project is on the Powell Ranger District, near Lolo Pass, and consists of harvesting 59 acres of dead and dying burned trees. Finalization of the analysis and a decision memo has been signed.
The Woodrat area salvage project includes harvest of fire-killed trees on a portion of the Woodrat fire which burned acres on the Lochsa Ranger District, lands administered by Idaho Department of Lands, and private lands near the communities of Syringa and Lowell.
The proposed decision is being refined due to changes on the ground and to take into account the visual impacts from within the Wild and Scenic River Corridor. An Emergency Situation Determination has been requested for this project.
Forest personnel continue to work closely with the regulator agencies on the Endangered Species Act compliance for both the Woodrat and Upper Lolo projects. This process has been completed for all other projects.
The proposed decision for the Roadside, Administrative, and Recreation Site Maintenance hazard tree removal project is being refined to address concerns from the public. The modifications include restricting activity on administratively closed roads to felling dead trees and fuels abatement, only; restricting equipment to the road surface adjacent to Inventoried Roadless Areas; and implementing project design features in areas visible from the Wild and Scenic River Corridor.
The Emergency Situation Determination request submitted for the Roadside, Administrative, and Recreation Site Maintenance hazard tree removal project has been approved by the Chief of the Forest Service.
Response to public concern, as well as resource conditions discovered during project layout, has reduced the scope and scale of the project and prompted changes in the proposed decision.
Forest personnel across all disciplines are working together to address the needs on lands administered by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and are participating members of the NCIWRG. Public input is a valued part of this process, as forest personnel work to provide safe access and restore the land.