Includes harvesting, planting, thinning, road repair
By Ann McCreary
More than 10,000 acres of forest restoration work in the South Summit area near Loup Loup Pass is expected to begin as early as fall.
The South Summit II Project encompasses about 50,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. About 70 percent of the project area burned during the Carlton Complex Fire last summer. The forest restoration project was under consideration prior to the fire and was subsequently modified.
“We were very close to a decision [on the project] last year, but a large portion of the project areas burned during the Carlton fire,” said Mike Liu, Methow Valley District ranger. “As a result, specialists modified the original proposed action to match restoration activities with the needs brought on by the fire.”
Planned work in the area includes managing vegetation and reducing fuels around Loup Loup Summit, Finley Canyon and the area south of Benson Creek. Areas untouched by the fire or lightly burned are vulnerable to insects, disease and wildfire due to tree stands that have become too dense, according to the Forest Service.
The project involves road work, including decommissioning roads; tree planting; prescribed burning; thinning; commercial timber harvest; hazard tree removal in campgrounds; and development of a new campground for horse users.
A four-mile swath of forest in the project area — from the head of Finley Canyon east toward Thrapp Mountain — burned intensely in the Carlton Complex Fire, said Meg Trebon, interdisciplinary team leader for the project.
“It’s an area of high tree mortality … we have a lot of dead standing snags,” Trebon said.
“The critical need for this area, where it’s so severely burned” is to reforest the burned area, in part to help stabilize the soil, she said.
“We plan to replant 8,300 acres [throughout the project area]. They will be planted in much more open spacing” than has been done in the past to create a more open forest, she said. She said the planting would continue for up to five years, as funding and seedlings become available.
Trebon said Forest Service staff pondered the best approach to dealing with the thousands of acres of burned snags as they planned the South Summit II project. Some salvage logging was done in the area after the fire last year in a separate project called “Brimstone,” which took place northeast of Pole Pick Mountain.
However, that was “a small fraction” of the severely burned area, Trebon said.
“We were constrained on the amount we could do in that time frame,” which involved completing environmental assessments, carrying out the harvest during winter to reduce soil impacts, and getting the wood to market before it lost value.
Much of the area is very steep and difficult to access, she said.
“We considered further salvage as part of South Summit II. From an economic standpoint, by the time the project was out, the bulk of the trees would have lost their value,” Trebon said.
The standing snags pose concerns for future extreme wildfires, she said.
“In the next 10 to 30 years most of those trees will collapse,” she said. The standing and downed snags can contribute to future wildfires because the rough terrain created by downed trees and potential for falling trees make it dangerous for firefighters; the large logs on the ground creates heavy surface fuels that are difficult to put out (think of a big bonfire, Trebon said); and logs burning on the ground cause more soil damage.
“It’s definitely a future concern,” but not one that could be addressed in the current project, Trebon said. “It’s hard to leave a condition on the landscape that you know is going to contribute to uncharacteristic fires.”
Other parts of the project area burned less intensely, clearing the understory but leaving tree stands intact. Some of those are still in need of treatment to reduce fire hazards because surface fuels are already regenerating, Trebon said.
The South Summit II project includes 2,350 acres of commercial harvest. Most of the harvest will take place in winter to minimize soil impacts, Trebon said. In areas near winter cross country ski and snowmobile trails, however, harvest will be done in the summer to avoid impacting the recreational trails.
The project involves decommissioning 89 miles of roads, some of which are mostly grown over already, she said. About one mile of road will be constructed and then decommissioned in the project.
A new horse camp will be developed next to the North Summit Sno-park, near the highway as part of the project. The 15-acre campground will accommodate people pulling horse trailers. It will include loading ramps and a mounting ramp that is handicapped accessible, as well as picnic areas, an outhouse and a gravity-fed water system for horses.