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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of March 19 - 25, 2003


Loggers to join pine beetle battle

SNRA project would curb fire danger

Comments sought

Last week, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area published its Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project Environmental Assessment and is seeking public feedback on the 115-page document. Comments on the project will be accepted until April 14.

"Since time is of the essence if we are to begin implementation this field season, we will be reviewing the comments and issuing a decision as soon as possible," wrote SNRA Deputy Area Ranger Lisa Stoeffler in a letter to the public. To obtain a copy of the EA, or to comment write, call or e-mail:

Sawtooth National Recreation Area
HC 64, Box 8291|
Ketchum, ID 83340|
(208) 727-5000

Stanley Ranger Station
HC 64, Box 9900
Stanley, ID 83278
(208) 774-3000


Express Staff Writer

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to allow the harvest of an estimated 3.3 million board feet of insect-infected lodgepole pine trees in the Sawtooth Valley over the next five years.

The logging operation would be part of a plan designed to combat the fire danger created when indigenous mountain pine beetles killed thousands of acres of lodgepole pine trees in the area in the last five years.

The Sawtooth Valley’s rust-colored, beetle-killed trees stand out under a waning sun. Boundary Creek, in the foreground, is one of nine areas the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to treat to alleviate fire danger posed the dead and dying lodgepole pine trees. Express photo by Greg Stahl

The plan, which focuses on the so-called urban-wildland interface where private properties and forests mesh, would target 2,465 acres at nine Sawtooth Valley sites from Smiley Creek to near Stanley Lake. Cutting of dead or mature lodgepole pine trees and sagebrush would help alleviate fire danger in treated areas.

"Current hazardous fuel loading, as a result of the mountain pine beetle infestation, would exhibit extreme fire behavior if ignited," according to the Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project Environmental Assessment.

To alleviate this fire danger, the Forest Service is proposing to employ a multifaceted plan that would include forest thinning, patch cutting, construction of fire breaks and construction of defensible space around homes and campgrounds.

In areas of heavy beetle mortality, the plan calls for removal of trees ranging from 7 to 15 inches in diameter. In areas of limited beetle mortality, trees greater than 8 inches in diameter would be removed.

To create defensible space, the project would allow for removal of fuels nearly a mile away from structures and private land. However, the document states that "treatment distance will not be uniform in all areas."

The only major change in the project since it was announced last May is that a treatment area near Smiley Creek was added.

The Rocky Mountain Ranch, a guest ranch, is in one of the visibly hardest hit parts of the Sawtooth Valley. The ranch’s manager said Monday that the Forest Service plan seems to make sense.

"It seems timely, and it seems appropriate," said ranch manager Bill Leavell. "Something certainly needs to happen, and it’s all within the realm of the possible."

SNRA Deputy Area Ranger Lisa Stoeffler said the nine proposed treatment sites, including areas around Rocky Mountain Ranch, comprise about 85 percent of the wildland-interface areas that have been impacted by beetles on the SNRA.

"It’s those areas that fit the same prescription," she said. "They are similar timber stands that have heavy tree mortality. They’re adjacent to interface areas. They’re accessible, and they’re on gentle terrain, which gives a wide range of treatment options."

Mountain pine beetles are nothing new to the Sawtooth Mountains. The beetles have coexisted with fire as long as there have been lodgepole pine trees.

In ecosystems without public use, mountain pine beetle-killed trees burn and prompt the regeneration of new lodgepole pine stands.

"It is a naturally occurring cycle for regeneration," according to the EA.

Accurate records regarding wildfire suppression in the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin date to 1948. Wildfire suppression has occurred since approximately 1905, and since 1948, 326 wildfires have been suppressed in the lodgepole pine stands of the Sawtoothh Valley.

"This suppression has allowed for a high density, even aged lodgepole pine community and a large amount of fuel on the ground," the E.A. states. "During mountain pine beetle outbreaks, mature, even-aged lodgepole pine stands can experience widespread tree mortality, killing up to a million trees each year. This native insect, the mountain pine beetle, is present on the SNRA and is at an epidemic level."

Of the 756,000 acres within the SNRA, there are approximately 288,000 acres of forested land. Areas occupied by almost pure lodgepole pine forests are roughly 137,973 acres. The SNRA’s other tree species include a mix of subalpine fir, Douglas fir, aspen, Englemann spruce, and whitebark pine.

The proposed Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project would affect 2 percent of the SNRA’s lodgepole pine forests.


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