By Ann McCreary
The public comment period for the Mission Restoration Project has been extended until June 10 due to requests for additional time and high public interest in the proposed forest restoration project.
Methow Valley District Ranger Mike Liu announced this week he would extend the original May 31 deadline to allow people more time to prepare their comments after an open house on the project that was held by the ranger district on Monday (May 23).
The three-hour open house at the Methow Valley Community Center drew about 30 people, who had an opportunity to talk with U.S. Forest Service staff about various aspects of the project.
The Mission Project would conduct thinning, prescribed burning, soil treatments and changes to roads within a 50,200-acre area in the Buttermilk Creek and Libby Creek watersheds west of Twisp. About 20 percent of the project area would undergo some kind of treatment.
The primary goals of the project is to restore ecosystem health and resilience, and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“Questions and comments I heard [at the open house] covered topics including proposed thinning methods and diameters, concerns about protecting private property during prescribed burning, treatment costs and funding, road decommissioning, cattle grazing, proposed amendments to the Forest Plan, and suggestions to manage the project area differently,” said Meg Trebon, leader of the project’s interdisciplinary team.
Some people suggested no commercial thinning, and managing the project area with wildfires and prescribed fires alone, said Trebon.
“In addition to concerns about [those] topics, I heard support for the project with interest in having more areas thinned,” Trebon said.
In a summary prepared for the open house, the Forest Service described the proposed treatments and purposes as:
• Soil restoration treatment on 486 acres using a sub-soiler that breaks up compacted soils to restore soil productivity and hydrologic function in selected areas.
• Commercial thinning on 2,051 acres to restore historical tree species and growth patterns, reduce conifer competition in aspen stands, and remove diseased trees.
• Understory thinning on 6,318 acres to remove small-diameter conifers up to 8 inches in diameter to reduce competition for limited water and decrease extreme wildfire risk.
• Plantation thinning on 1,713 acres to remove understory small-diameter conifers to promote resilient tree stands, develop large trees, and reduce competition for water.
• Wetland thinning around the edges of Blackpine Meadows and Mission Pond wetland to reduce conifer encroachment.
• Prescribed burning that includes 2,851 acres of hand-piling and burning; 850 acres of machine-piling and burning; 18 acres of burning landing piles; and 7,255 acres of underburning. The prescribed fire would reduce debris created by thinning and decades of fire suppression, and reintroduce fire effects similar to historical wildfires.
Transportation changes are proposed on 136 miles of road, including closing 47 miles of road and decommissioning 33 miles to reduce sediment deposition into streams, restore hydrologic function and reduce road maintenance costs. Approximately 1.25 miles of temporary roads would be constructed to provide access during the project, and then decommissioned.
Planning for the Mission Project began in 2013. According to a project timeline provided by the district, after the current comment period ends June 10, the interdisciplinary project team and district ranger will review comments and determine if changes should be made to the proposed project, or if other alternatives should be developed.
A draft environmental analysis document is expected to be released in August for a 30-day review period, and a decision by the district ranger is expected in the fall, followed by a 45-day objection period.
The timeline calls for any commercial timber sale to be advertised and sold from spring 2017-2022, followed by a five-year implementation period.
From spring 2017 through 2027, ladder fuel and plantation thinning would occur as funding become available. Road closures, decommissioning and culvert replacement would also occur as funding become available. Prescribed burning would occur from 2018-2028.
A description of the Mission Project and information on submitting comments is available online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=49201. Comments may be submitted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information contact Meg Trebon at the Methow Ranger District at 996-4032.