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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 24 - 30, 2002


Healthy Forests 
too late for SNRA

Express Staff Writer

While the Bush administration is busy implementing a Healthy Forests Initiative to streamline the process by which forest managers can thin accumulated fuels, the Sawtooth National Forest is nearing completion of its own plan to thin fire-prone areas in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

The Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project was initiated last May, after mountain pine beetles continued to decimate thousands of acres of lodgepole pine trees in the upper Salmon River Valley. The red-brown coniferous skeletons the beetles left behind constitute a sizable amount of kindling, ready to flare if a lightning strike or unattended campfire breaks free.

Last spring, the Sawtooth National Forest began collecting public input for an environmental assessment in association with the project. A draft assessment is expected for release this spring, said Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel.

Forest officials said they hope to implement the plan before the coming fire season, and, so far, the Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project has gone off with very few snags.

"But we’re not done with the process yet," Waldapfel said. "When the pre-decisional document comes out, then we will be able to pass judgment."

While the Sawtooth National Forest is working within the parameters set by the National Environmental Policy Act to alleviate fire danger in areas where trees and people live in close proximity to one another, President George W. Bush has proposed 10 pilot projects, including one near Pocatello, to accomplish similar goals using "streamlined" means.

The difference will be that the areas targeted for thinning will undergo streamlined versions of environmental analyses, and appeals will be permitted only by groups or individuals who comment early in the process, and then only by a predetermined deadline.

The reviews will take into account both the environmental and economic consequences of not thinning the forest. This gives additional weight to the potential costs related to lost hunting and recreation seasons.

As long as the Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project is going off with few sparks flying, Waldapfel agreed that Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative may not be necessary locally.

"Is the Healthy Forests Initiative something we absolutely need here on the Sawtooth National Forest? I don’t know. I would, at this point, say no," he said.


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