Public comment sought on forest plan by June 20

By Ann McCreary

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to treat 16,281 acres on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that have invasive plant infestations, according to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released last week.

The Forest Service also proposes introducing a new process to allow quick treatment of new or previously undiscovered infestations. Called Early Detection/Rapid Response (EDRR), it would allow the Forest Service to act quickly if environmental conditions at the site and the treatment method have already been analyzed.

Invasive plants have multiple negative effects on the forest ecosystem including displacement of native plants, reduction of forage and habitat for wildlife and livestock, and increased soil erosion and reduced water quality, according to an announcement of the DEIS by the Forest Service.

Invasive plants can also cause shifts in the physical and biological properties of soil, impact the intensity and frequency of fires, and degrade the quality of recreational experiences.

Fifty different invasive plant species have been mapped within the boundaries Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Existing infestations vary in size and extent from  small areas of less than an acre to hundreds of acres.

Invasive plants of greatest concern include Dalmatian toadflax, common crupina, yellow starthistle, whitetop, St. John’s wort, Japanese and Bohemian knotweed, hawkweeds, common houndstongue, hoary alyssum, and spotted and diffuse knapweed. 

Different treatment methods, including new, more environmentally sensitive herbicides, are needed on the forest in order to effectively manage these invasive plants, the Forest Service said. These new herbicides increase treatment cost-effectiveness, and minimize environmental risk. 

Treatment methods proposed in the DEIS include manual, mechanical, cultural (seeding native species), biological (insects that kill or weaken the invasive plant), and chemical control. Herbicide would be primarily applied through spot spraying, with very limited ground-based broadcast. 

“Preventing the spread of invasive plants is an important action as we plan and implement all activities on the Forest, from trail construction to wildland fire fighting. The proposed action in this DEIS will give us essential new tools to address and curb the spread of invasive plants,” said Stuart Woolley, forest resources and planning staff officer.

“The EDRR process will maximize our ability to treat new infestations when they are small. The combination of prevention and early treatment of new invaders will, in cooperation with our partners, better enable us to protect forest lands,” said Jason Kuiken, deputy forest supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “EDRR … is a truly significant addition to our toolbox to prevent the sometimes explosive expansion of new weed populations, it’s much easier to eradicate a new population when it is small.”

In addition to the proposed action, the DEIS also includes a required “no action” alternative, as well as a third alternative that would restrict herbicide treatment to about 5,000 acres that have larger or more aggressive infestations.

The public has until June 20 to comment on the DEIS. Comments may be submitted by email, letter, telephone, fax, or office visit.  Information on the project and how to comment is available at the project website, www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=24104;  or by email at invasiveplants@fs.fed.us.

Written comments may be mailed or hand delivered to: Brigitte Ranne, Project Coordinator, Forest-wide Invasive Plant DEIS, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 215 Melody Lane, Wenatchee, WA 98801.