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Ripley Project gets USFS go-ahead

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | June 1, 2021 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials gave the go-ahead last week for a project that will treat over 12,000 acres of timberlands in south Lincoln County.

Chad Benson, supervisor of the Kootenai National Forest, signed the decision for the Ripley Project on May 27. The action authorizes commercial timber harvests, vegetation treatment and roadwork as well as trail building and firewood harvests in a 29,180-acre tract of forest east of Libby.

Work could begin on the project as soon as this spring, according to a press release from the Forest Service.

Officials noted the importance of treatment efforts within the Ripley Project area considering Lincoln County’s vulnerability to wildfire and forest health issues. A revision of the Montana Forest Action Plan cited Lincoln County as having among the most acres at risk of disease and wildfire in the state.

A section of the project area lies within the wildland-urban interface defined in the Lincoln County Community Wildfire protection plan. The Libby Airport and many private properties border the western edge of the project.

To facilitate treatment work, the Forest Service will partner with the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation under the Good Neighbor Authority.

In the scoping notice for the project, Forest Service officials said treatment would address the prevalence of Douglas-fir — a species of tree that increases the potential for insect infestation disease — in the area. Through Ripley, forest managers plan to improve big game winter ranges and habitats for flammulated owls.

Taking into account public comments and given the proximity of Ripley to Libby, project managers added motorized and non-motorized recreational opportunities to the project.

The Ripley Project ranges from the Kootenai River to the north and extends just south of Libby Airport. The project area includes Swede Mountain and a section of the Farm to Market corridor.

The Ripley Project includes 10,854 acres of harvest, 1,544 acres of non-commercial treatment and 148 acres of old growth treatment. Forest Service officials will put in 13 miles of new system road, eight miles of mountain bike trail and four miles of dual designation off-highway vehicle trail. Project managers are considering opening up 35 miles of year-long gated and buried roads to allow for firewood gathering, according to the decision notice.