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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.
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For the week of June 18 - 24, 2003


Red Tree Project decision ready

Beetle-killed trees targeted as fire danger

Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth National Recreation Area is preparing to release an environmental document that calls for the harvest of an estimated 3.3 million board feet of insect-infested lodgepole pine trees in the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin over the next five years.

The SNRA announced today it would endorse a final version of its Red Tree Fuels Reduction Project Environmental Assessment on Thursday, June 19, in order to move forward with reducing hazardous fuels in wildland and urban interface areas.

The harvest is 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 Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin over the last half decade.

"We are excited to begin implementation on this project," said SNRA Area Ranger Deb Cooper. "We must make every attempt to reduce fuel loading adjacent to homes, other private structures and public infrastructure as quickly as possible."

The decision, to be issued by Cooper, will be subject to a 45-day appeal period, which will end Monday, Aug. 4. Project implementation could occur as soon as Aug. 9, Cooper said.

Cooper said she has decided to implement a strategy that targets approximately 2,465 acres for fuel reduction treatments, primarily around private homes and public recreation sites. She said the selected sites have a large accumulation of dead, dying or threatened timber surrounding buildings or recreation developments.

To alleviate fire danger and improve overall forest health, the Forest Service is planning to employ a multifaceted plan that includes 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.

In creation of 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."

Mountain pine beetles and fire have coexisted almost as long as there have been lodgepole pine trees, and wildfires play a key role in lodgepole pine forests.

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 draft EA, released in March.

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 Sawtooth Valley.

"This suppression has allowed for a high density, even aged lodgepole pine community and a large amount of fuel on the ground," the EA states.

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

"We have worked to minimize the impacts of this project to users and resources," said SNRA Deputy Area Ranger Lisa Stoeffler. "The protection of the beauty and scenic value of the SNRA is not only required by law, it is of utmost importance to the Sawtooth National Forest."


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