Comments sought on forest management, usage changes
U.S. Forest Service officials met the public on Thursday (Nov. 21) at the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp to discuss a wide range of changes they propose for areas of the forest up the Twisp River. Some of the Forest Service’s Twisp River neighbors came to the open house to hear about one of the plan’s elements in particular: reducing wildfire risk.
Proposals in the Forest Service’s Twisp Restoration Plan include reducing forest density, improving habitat for threatened salmon and lynx, and taking inventory of all the roads — both official and unofficial — in an area spread over 77,038 acres.
The project area includes the Twisp River, Alder Creek, Rader Creek and Wolf Creek drainages.
The Twisp Restoration Plan is in its earliest stages, and the Forest Service seeks public comment through Dec. 12 that would help the agency decide what to prioritize. Comments are being accepted online at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56554.
Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr outlined for the open house audience several of the actions that may be come out of the plan, including controlled burns and thinning some trees, to improve the health of the forest and reduce the chance of more severe wildfires. Some thinning could be through commercial harvest, and in some cases crews would remove smaller trees and other “ladder fuels” in the understory that enable fires to reach the tree crowns — a severe type of fire that can move extremely rapidly.
Past management practices, including more frequent logging and aggressive fire suppression, have led to unnaturally dense stands of trees that are more vulnerable to disease and extreme fires, Forest Service officials said.
As the Forest Service reevaluates its transportation needs in the project area, some official forest roads may close, and some unrecognized, “user-built” roads may be kept, according to plan documents.
The Forest Service is evaluating the Chickadee trail system, which has been developed for nonmotorized uses. Some trails might be removed, because they are eroding and creating conflicts between bicyclists and motorized vehicles. New trails would be built to replace any trails that are removed.
The Forest Service also wants to gauge the public’s interest in permitting e-bikes or all-terrain vehicles in certain areas.
Bob Schoenleber, who lives 9 miles up the Twisp River, said he came to the open house to find out how the Forest Service was going to manage fires. He said the Little Bridge Creek Fire (2014), the Twisp River Fire (2015) and the Crescent Mountain Fire (2018) all converged at the area where he lives.
“I think what they’re proposing, getting the understory cleared out and prescribed burns, I think that’s great,” Schoenleber said.
John Brooks, who lives just a little downriver from Schoenleber on Newby Creek, said he has lived within a couple miles of his current place for the past 77 years. Brooks, who retired from the Forest Service after 35 years, said the agency has been “closing a lot of roads” recently. He would advocate to keep roads open so they can be used for fire response.
The plan also calls for introducing beaver dams in Twisp River tributaries and woody debris in the river’s upper reaches. One attendee told Gene Shull, a Forest Service fish biologist, that establishing beaver ponds and placing fallen trees in the river might increase the risk of ice dams and damaging ice flows. He recalled an ice flow that roared down the Twisp River “like a freight train” one winter and damaged a bridge.
Adding wood to the river is beneficial, Forest Service hydrologist Lance George said, because it helps the river form spawning grounds for salmon.
A draft of the Twisp Restoration Plan is expected in August 2020, when more public comment will be taken. The Forest Service intends to publish a draft decision on the plan in March 2021, with a final decision coming a few months after that.