Forest Service launches scoping for massive Bitterroot Front Project

The subject line is the headline of a Missoula Current article. 144,000 acres. Thanks to Nick Smith for the link. An excerpt:

The U.S. Forest Service this week announced it was beginning scoping efforts on the proposed Bitterroot Front Project affecting forestlands from northwest of Florence south to Conner and Trapper Creek.

Since scoping is the first step in the public process, the documents consist of a series of maps showing areas where a group of agencies want the focus on timber, prescribed burns or other activities. The agencies include the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Ravalli County, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and other federal agencies.

If the project sounds familiar, that’s because Bitterroot National Forest supervisor Matt Anderson held a series of “pre-scoping” meetings in 2019 to give the public more of a heads-up on the project. It led to some confusion as to what the public was to do, but Anderson told the Bitterroot Star in 2019 he just wanted to describe the “desired future condition that we want and then look at the various ways we can achieve it.”

The Forest Service describes the project as it does many others: a “fuels reduction, vegetation management, and forest health improvement project” that will provide timber projects and related jobs. Calling it “a landscape-scale proposal,” the Forest Service proposes a “Shared Stewardship Approach” to encourage vegetation treatments across ownership boundaries. Private landowners along the forest boundary will be invited to participate in the project through Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development and Good Neighbor Authority.  

6 thoughts on “Forest Service launches scoping for massive Bitterroot Front Project”

  1. “However, wildfire studies show that logged and thinned areas don’t stop catastrophic wildfires such as the Roaring Lion or the Lolo Peak fires. Such fires erupt due to extremely hot, dry conditions and then are pushed along by high winds. The high winds not only make forests burn hotter but they also carry firebrands far from the active front of the fire so fires can spread quickly, leaping over thinned or logged areas.

    In such conditions, even trees aren’t necessary, as evidenced by all the damage caused by the destructive grassfires of eastern Montana.

    Logging and prescribed burns can diminish the damage and progress of normal forest fires that pop up during more normal conditions. However, those are also the kind of fires that firefighters are very effective at controlling, so they’re not as much of a threat, said retired U.S. Forest Service fire behaviorist Jack Cohen.

    Cohen cautions those who would use catastrophic fires as a justification for forest projects and who promise such projects will protect residents.”

    I’m kind of surprised that a journalist could overlook the successes of fuel treatment projects. And I don’t know anyone who “promises” anything .. but I do know many residents who would like treatments done for n FS land near them. And then there’s PODs. I don’t see this kind of reporting in Colorado. It would be interesting to do a study of how fuel mitigation work is covered by different outlets.. or perhaps someone has?

  2. Here’s another article:

    “While the forest doesn’t plan to treat all of the 144,000 acres included in the analysis area, Brown said officials will incorporate lessons learned in developing the other two larger projects and use an adaptive framework that will provide flexibility in getting projects accomplished on the ground…. Brown said the agency also found that it doesn’t work to plan projects too far in the future because the landscape is always changing.”

    Can you say “condition-based NEPA?” The scoping letter states that there will be a maximum of about 55,000 acres of commercial timber harvest, but they haven’t identified where the units will be or how they will be treated. That may or may not be enough for scoping, but it’s clearly not enough for NEPA effects analysis. They don’t say that they will do future NEPA, leaving me with the impression that this is it. Maybe it will get to being site-specific enough.

    • I would add “the utility of spending years creating plans at the level of comprehensiveness of a plan revision is questionable because the landscape both physical, social, and legal is always changing.”


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