More than twice as many trees will be left standing under a revised plan by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a timber sale and forest thinning in the Methow Valley.
DNR spent six months revising plans for the sale after hearing concerns from more than 100 people last year.
The timber sale had already been revised once, but DNR has modified it further to minimize the visual impact and reduce fire hazards after the sale. The total acreage to be harvested has been reduced by 12 percent in DNR’s “modified revised project.”
Most of the thinning and logging will be in the Wolf Creek and Virginia Ridge areas below Sun Mountain Lodge. There is a small area to be logged near Mazama.
The revised plans call for leaving 40 trees per acre, up from 21 in the original plan and 26 in the first revision. The areas to be treated currently have about 150 trees per acre.
Many people told DNR they were worried that the agency’s initial plans would resemble a clear-cut and that it would have negative economic effects on the valley’s tourism industry.
Some commenters said they were concerned that the original proposal for thinning would actually increase fire risk because removing so many trees would dry out the understory.
DNR has modified the design of the sale so that trees left standing will be unevenly distributed, with clumps and openings to preserve a natural appearance. The initial design had called for trees to be evenly spaced. The final sale will result in 19 percent fewer board feet of wood.
The sale will create 800 feet of new roads, plus up to 600 feet of new spur roads to reach landings. The spur roads will be re-seeded after the logging is completed. DNR has agreed to leave more trees along the boundaries of the sale to mask landings and new roads.
Other modifications are intended to reduce the risk of wildfire after the logging. DNR plans to mechanically pile and burn logging slash at 14 landings, and will conduct surveys after the harvest to determine whether further thinning is necessary to remove additional small-diameter trees. Slash from this thinning will be hand-piled and potentially burned.
DNR foresters have issued a mitigated determination of nonsignificance, meaning the proposal would not have adverse impacts on the environment. The mitigations for the project are decisions by DNR not to harvest trees in riparian and wetland areas, according to DNR’s proprietary forester for the Northeast Region.
The timber sale was initially slated for the summer of 2018. When Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz came to the Methow in May 2018 for a public meeting about the logging sale and a new forest-health initiative DNR was launching in eastern Washington, she said she was “scared to death that this 700 acres could go up in flames.” DNR has taken that initiative into account in its review of the Virginia Ridge timber sale.
DNR will hire a logger to cut and deliver the timber and the wood will be auctioned to a lumber mill. The auction is set for April 23, with removal of all merchantable timber to be completed by Nov. 15.
People can comment on the modified revised project through Friday (Feb. 8). Details are available on DNR’s website at www.dnr.wa.gov/state-environmental-policy-act-sepa under Timber Sales, then under Northeast, then under Virginia Ridge Sorts (originally Virginia Ridge FIT) Timber Sale #96324. There are new documents for January 2019.