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County commissioners seek more info on local USFS project

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | May 21, 2021 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners have sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service officials highlighting concerns about how a local forestry project would address wildfire risks near private properties.

While commissioners on the whole voiced support for the proposed 7,000-acre Swamped Project, they expressed worries about how the Forest Service would manage the project’s wildland urban interface (WUI). That section of the project concerns forestlands abutting developed property.

Foremost in the May 4 letter, commissioners asked how much land the WUI would cover. The missive notes that the interface appears to include about half of the project area in a map provided by the Forest Service but commissioners were unsure of the exact acreage.

In a follow-up interview, Chad Benson, supervisor of the Kootenai National Forest, said the interface would span 4,000 acres.

Commissioners also expressed concerns about what kind of treatments Forest Service officials were planning for the land that fell into the interface.

“Although a large percentage of the project area is in the WUI, there is very little discussion about the protection of that designated area. This is a concern to the county,” reads the letter.

Jennifer Nelson, county forester, said ensuring wildfire fuels are properly managed in the WUI is of particular importance considering the interface’s proximity to private property.

Regeneration treatment, intermediate treatment — designed to enhance the growth, quality, vigor and composition of the stand — ecosystem burn, precommercial thinning and slash hand treatment will be used within the WUI, according to the project’s scoping notice.

The project’s treatment schedule was another concern raised by commissioners. Considering that treatment in the WUI is needed to protect private property from imminent wildfire risk, commissioners worried that the 20- to 25-year timeline was inordinately lengthy.

“We are aware that the Forest Service’s new approach to landscape-scale projects is condition-based management with longer timeframes to accomplish work,” the letter reads. “However, treatments near our communities and the WUI cannot be subject to timeframes of that length.”

While the overall project schedule might be 20 to 25 years, Benson said Forest Service officials could still package sections of the project at different intervals.

The commissioner’s letter also asked for identification of areas affected by insects and disease.

The Swamped Project spans from U.S. Highway 2 to the divide with Fisher River. On its north end, the project is abutted by the Elliot Creek Drainage and extends to near Arabian Lane.