After almost 14% of the area in the Twisp Restoration Project (TRP) burned in last summer’s Cedar Creek Fire, the Methow Valley Ranger District has significantly reduced the project footprint so it can start thinning and restoration as soon as possible – potentially this fall.
The footprint has been reduced from 77,000 acres to about 24,000, Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr said in an online public meeting on Wednesday (Jan. 26). The Cedar Creek Fire burned about 10,600 acres of the original proposal.
Watersheds affected by the fire (either by burning or suppression actions) have been dropped from consideration. The need for treatments in those watersheds may be included in a future project, Furr said.
While most fire-affected areas have been eliminated, about 100 acres near Thompson Ridge are still included and will be treated with thinning and prescribed fire, district silviculturist Eireann Pederson said at the meeting.
The new footprint encompasses the lower Twisp River watershed west to Buttermilk, Blackpine Lake, the Alder Creek area, and part of Thompson Ridge. The original boundaries also included the upper Twisp River watershed and Wolf Creek. Because most effects are analyzed at the watershed level, breaking the project along watershed lines allowed for efficiency in updating the environmental analysis, Furr said.
The thinning could result in up to four timber sales over three years or, depending on economics and other factors, a greater number of smaller sales, Furr said. The new plan also shortens the timeline for phased treatments from 30 to 20 years.
The ranger district and North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative met in November to discuss their options. They considered two approaches: keeping the boundaries the same and evaluating the fire impacts as part of the overall environmental analysis; and eliminating watersheds burned in the fire and relying on the original analysis for the unaffected areas
They chose option 2 because it enables the district to get started sooner on urgent projects to address wildfire risk, since they won’t need to re-evaluate affected areas and update reports, Furr said.
One downside to the second option is that it postpones some important aquatic work, although some aquatics treatments may be done under the Pacific Northwest Region Aquatic Restoration Project, which is under development and will have its own environmental review, Furr said.
The district received almost 1,000 comments in late 2020 and has altered the TRP to respond to some of those concerns, Pederson said.
“I think we heard you folks loud and clear on changing the maximum diameter limit on which we would be removing trees,” Pederson said. The district reduced the maximum diameter to 21 inches. The proposal allows thinning of trees up to 25 inches if their health is compromised, she said.
The district won’t do any commercial harvest in old-growth forests, although it will do thinning and other forest-health treatments, she said.
In response to comments, the district eliminated a proposal to add new trails near Chickadee and all-terrain vehicle routes. They still plan to close the four-site Road’s End campground, which burned severely in the 2018 Crescent Mountain Fire, but will add campsites to other Twisp River campgrounds to make up for the closure, Pederson said.
Most areas burned in the Crescent Mountain Fire are no longer part of the proposal. As a result, salvage logging of trees burned in that fire is not part of the revised plan. The reduced project area also doesn’t include any Late Successional Reserve (old-growth) or inventoried roadless areas.
Details about changes to roads and trails will be included in the environmental analysis. Roads constructed or reopened for access during the project will be decommissioned or closed afterwards.
River, stream treatments
The project retains some aquatic treatments. The district plans to add a considerable amount of woody debris, both engineered wood structures and trees removed by thinning, in the Twisp River, Little Bridge Creek and Poorman Creek, district hydrologist Lance George said.
Current conditions in the Twisp River watershed are far below standards for a healthy stream system, district biologist Gene Shull said. Ideally, there would be more than 550 pieces of wood per mile, from 6 inches to large diameter, but the watershed has only about 80 pieces per mile. Woody debris adds complexity to rivers, providing habitat for endangered fish.
Other aquatic treatments include adding pipes and enlarged culverts to create fish passage. They district also plan sbeaver-dam analogs, George said.
The district acknowledged the effects on the Twisp River corridor. “To get this important work done, one of the impacts is increased traffic for the three years these timber sales are open,” Furr said.
Members of the public asked about wildfire risks from slash piles left in the forest after thinning. The district hopes to use contractors or U.S. Forest Service employees from other areas so it can burn the piles during the short window of safety, Furr said. Transporting slash is very expensive, and burning it provides nutrients for the soil, Pederson said.
The district is open to coordinating with other projects in the valley who might be able to use slash, including the Methow Beaver Project and the C6 Forest to Farm biochar project, Furr said.
The district anticipates funding from several sources, including the federal infrastructure bill and timber sales, Furr said. The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will be designated a priority forest in Washington in the 2022 fiscal year, although they don’t have details yet, he said.
The district is currently finalizing the environmental analysis, which will outline the changes to the original TRP proposal and include detailed maps. They expect to release the environmental analysis this spring for a 45-day objection period. The district hopes for a signed decision this summer, with the possibility of starting some work this fall.
A recording of the meeting and PowerPoint presentation with maps of the revised area is available under the “Analysis” tab on the Forest Service website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56554.