Thursday, September 28, 2023

Public meeting Sept. 18 for forest management near OU3 site

The Western News | September 15, 2023 7:00 AM

The Libby Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, at the Kootenai National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Libby to present its plans for timber and fuels management near the Asbestos Superfund Site Operable Unit 3.

There will be a brief presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.

The purpose of the public meeting is to discuss potential Forest Service fuels and forest management activities on lands encircling the former zonolite mine and OU3.

The Forest Service says it wants to share information about the project, gather input to inform agency decision-making and answer questions and respond to concerns from attendees.

The Environmental Protection Agency has defined a human health risk for firefighters inside OU3 during fire-fighting activities (i.e., dry mop-up). To reduce that risk, this project seeks to reduce the potential for fires moving into OU3 by reducing fuels outside OU3.

Forest officials say they want to reduce hazardous fuels and create a lower risk of large-scale, fast-moving wildfires.

Libby Amphibole asbestos is present in tree bark, duff and soil within OU3 and sampling studies have shown that a wildfire in OU3 would result in the release of asbestos, primarily by burning or incinerating asbestos-contaminated materials and concentrating that asbestos in wildfire ash following a fire.

Additionally, OU3 is one of the remaining Libby Asbestos Superfund Site OUs to be cleaned up by the EPA and is an estimated two years out from a Record of Decision.

In 2017, the EPA and Forest Service issued a joint fire preparedness action for in and around OU3. This action focused on use of a prioritized helicopter, dedicated equipment, and specially trained and equipped firefighters for aggressive initial attack.

Site assessment began in the summer of 2022 with field reviews conducted by forest resource specialists to determine the existing fuels and vegetation conditions. Proposed actions for treatment were developed based on the difference between the existing and desired conditions for this area.

Forest officials are proposing the reduction of tree density and promote fire tolerant species. Proposed vegetation treatments include timber harvest, pre-commercial thinning, cutting of small diameter understory trees, prescribed fire and weed management.

For more information, go to or contact Nathan Gassmann, District Ranger, or Pam Baltz, project leader, at the Libby Ranger Station by calling 406-293-7773.