Forest restoration proposal now open to more public comment

By Don Nelson

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a “finding of no significant impact” in a draft of its final Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Mission Restoration Project, a forest restoration plan affecting more than 50,000 acres in the Libby Creek and Buttermilk Creek drainages south of Twisp.

In an official notice issued last week, Methow Valley Ranger District Ranger Mike Liu said he has selected Alternative 2 — one of three possible approaches to addressing forest health issues in the Mission project area — which the Forest Service previously identified as its preference.

Interested parties have 45 days to comment on the findings, beginning with publication of a legal notice in the Wenatchee World.

The Mission project work is intended to restore the health of forest and aquatic ecosystems that have been altered by human activities including fire suppression. The goal is to make the landscape more resilient to disturbances such as wildfire and climate change.

“The Mission landscape restoration treatments would have a 10,220-acre footprint,” Liu said is his introductory letter to the 24-page notice of EA findings. “These treatments include commercial harvest of trees, pre-commercial thinning small diameter trees, aspen release, fuels treatment and prescribed landscape burning. In addition, a variety of aquatic restoration projects are a key component of restoring the Buttermilk Creek and Libby Creek watersheds.

“These projects include restoration of compacted soils, replacement of undersized culverts with larger culverts or hardened fords, beaver habitat enhancement, large wood enhancement within fish-bearing stream channels, and rock armoring of roads at stream crossings.

“The third major component of the Mission Restoration Project is to manage the transportation system for safe and efficient travel, administration, public use and protection of National Forest System Lands for now and in the future. This includes replacing an unsafe bridge, closing open system roads, decommissioning system and unauthorized roads, and adopting some unauthorized roads into the forest road system.”

Release of the final EA findings was preceded by an original draft and revised draft last year. The Forest Service solicited public input on both in preparing the final assessment.

It also worked with the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative in the “design, data collection and analysis” of the project.

The collaborative, which includes members of environmental organizations, timber industry representatives, Yakama and Colville tribal members, and government representatives, was formed in 2013 through the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board to promote forest restoration efforts.

Alternatives 2 and 3 in the environmental assessment both propose thinning and/or prescribed fire on about 10,000 acres. Alternative 3 calls for more work to improve aquatic ecosystems, including more road closures and decommissioning, and measures to control sediment and erosion at stream crossings.

The final Environmental Assessment, draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact are available at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49201. They are also available for inspection during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at the Methow Valley Ranger District. Call ahead to schedule an appointment.

Comments on the EA must be filed (by regular mail, fax, email, hand-delivery, express delivery, or messenger service) with the reviewing officer within 45 days of the legal notice at: Regional Forester, Attention: 1570 OBJECTIONS, Pacific Northwest Region, P. 0. Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208; for physical delivery, 1220 SW Third Ave., Portland, OR 97204; by fax at (503) 808-2339; or submitted electronically. Electronic objections must be submitted only to the web address shown above.

After the comments period ends, there may be further revisions.

For more information about the project, contact Team Leader Paul Nash at (509) 996-4008.