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Salvage project in the works for area burned by South Yaak Fire

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | November 16, 2021 7:00 AM

U.S. Forest Service officials are taking comments on a proposed salvage project covering an area scorched by a wildfire this summer.

The South Yaak Fire Salvage Project would allow forest managers to harvest dead and dying trees in timberlands northwest of Troy after the eponymous blaze tore through the area in July and August. Officials are hoping to undertake the project to gather economic value from burned timberlands, reduce the threat posed by standing dead trees and help speed up forest regeneration, according to the project scoping document.

The public comment period, which opened Nov. 5, will run until Dec. 6.

The project would include 624 acres of salvage logging by tractor and three miles of commercial roadside hazard tree removal. Officials are proposing 619 acres of reforestation with salvage, between 300 and 350 acres of reforestation without salvage and 0.5 mile of temporary road construction.

As Forest Service officials prepare the project, they may drop some proposed acres. Small springs, rock outcrops or other obstacles may prevent managers from treating certain areas. Other sections might be too steep for ground-based harvesting.

Harvest efforts would target trees that lost their crowns to fire or were scorched by surface fires. Trees that forest managers expect are likely to die within three years may be included in the salvage.

“Trees predicted to survive the fire would generally not be felled or removed, except for incidental individuals determined to pose a safety risk (either to operations in salvage units or within roadside hazard tree removal areas) or to create landings or within skid trails, where necessary,” the scoping document reads.

After completing their salvage, Forest Service officials may perform fuel reduction work in the area. This could include cutting dead and dying trees, masticating and piling and burning slash.

Temporary roads included in the project would help harvesters access landings, according to the scoping document. When finished with the roads, forest managers would contour them to the approximate shape of the surrounding landscape.

To reforest areas, Forest Service officials would favor planting long-lived early seral species including white pine, ponderosa pine and western larch.

Forest Service officials expect to open up public comment on an Environmental Assessment on the South Yaak Fire Salvage Project in February of 2022.

The Three Rivers Ranger District will accept comments via mail, fax or in-person. Commenters can mail their input to District Ranger, Three Rivers Ranger District, 12858 U.S. Highway 2, Troy, Montana 59935.

The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. excluding holidays. Faxes may be sent to (406) 295-7410.

Interested residents can email thoughts on the project to comments-northern-kootenai-three-rivers@usda.gov.