Reflects smaller size, suggested changes
The Methow Valley Ranger District has released the final Environmental Assessment for the Twisp Restoration Project (TRP). The TRP was reduced to 24,140 acres (a 69% reduction) to eliminate areas that burned — or were affected by fire suppression — in the 2021 Cedar Creek Fire.
People who previously submitted comments on the TRP have until June 13 to raise issues during the formal objection period.
The new project footprint is primarily in the lower Twisp River, Newby Creek, Poorman Creek, Myers Creek and Alder Creek drainages, as well as on the eastern slope of McClure Mountain. A small area lies at the west end of Twisp River Road. Before it was reduced in size, it was the largest forest project ever proposed in the district.
The detailed, 243-page Environmental Assessment describes changes made from the original proposal and compares outcomes of two alternatives — the TRP and the no-action alternative, which would leave the forest as is.
The TRP is intended to improve forest and aquatic health through thinning, prescribed burning, stream-habitat enhancement, fish passage, and transportation system changes, according to the Environmental Assessment. The TRP is intended to restore healthy forest stands that will be resilient to disturbances such as wildfire and climate change.
Treatments include non-commercial understory thinning (removal of small trees), commercial overstory thinning (removal of larger trees), and prescribed fire, but all have been reduced by more than half because of the smaller area.
One hundred acres that were affected by the Cedar Creek Fire will still be treated with understory thinning and prescribed fire. The ranger district will evaluate the Wolf and Rader creek areas that were severely affected by the fire for potential restoration.
Response to feedback
Numerous changes were made in response to feedback on the draft Environmental Assessment, which drew almost 1,000 comments. The duration of the TRP has been shortened from 30 years to 20. The two proposed actions that would have been underway for up to 30 years — prescribed fire and non-commercial stand-improvement thinning — have been scaled back.
After widespread public concern, the plan changed the criteria for removing large and old-growth trees. In most cases, the maximum diameter for removal is now 21 inches instead of 25 inches, unless the trees have potential health issues and are within 30 feet of a large, healthy tree.
Some commenters said that larger trees typically grow in moister areas and are therefore less susceptible to wildfire. Others expressed concerns that commercial logging of larger trees was being proposed to fund the other work.
Some commenters said there weren’t enough details about how the ranger district would measure the effectiveness of treatments. Others said the interventions are long overdue to reduce wildfire risk.
The proposal to add all-terrain vehicle routes has been completely dropped, after the public said that should be evaluated in a comprehensive travel analysis.
The revised plan also drops actions in the Sawtooth Inventoried Roadless Area. Proposed trails in the Chickadee area have also been eliminated.
There are many proposed changes to roads. Some will be constructed or reponed temporarily during the treatments, while unofficial roads will be permanently closed.
Most proposed actions are expected to improve soil resources and hydrologic function. Because road building would be done outside riparian and sensitive areas, it’s not expected to increase sediment in streams. But log hauling could increase the amount of fine sediment in waterways in the short term, according to the Environmental Assessment.
Most proposed activities in the Twisp River drainage west of Buttermilk and near Little Bridge Creek were eliminated because of the fire and will be evaluated separately for appropriate interventions.
One action that’s still planned in the upper Twisp River drainage is permanent closure of the Road’s End campground to protect bull trout habitat. Four campsites will be added to other campgrounds along the Twisp River to make up for the closure.
The ranger district determined these treatments are necessary because the project area contains a substantial amount of residential development close to forested areas (called the Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI), which can increase wildfire risk for residents.
Habitat in the project area — and throughout the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest — has been substantially diminished by recent wildfires. Because of the habitat loss, there’s a need to reduce the risk of wide-scale disturbances such as insect and disease outbreaks to maintain and develop functional forest ecosystems, according to the Environmental Assessment.
Past management practices such as timber harvest and fire suppression have altered the structure and species composition of forests compared to historical conditions — as well as those predicted for the future, it says.
The analysis determined that the proposed changes would benefit wildlife including mule deer, spotted owls and lynx.
The aquatic treatments — large-wood installation, culverts and passage for aquatic organisms, and beaver-dam analogues — are being handled through a separate project called the Twisp Aquatic Restoration Project. District staff determined that effects of the Cedar Creek fire and fire suppression didn’t change the need for these treatments, according to the Environmental Assessment.
The legal notice about the 45-day objection period was published in the Wenatchee World on April 30. People can find the notice on the World’s website at www.wenatcheeworld.com under the “Today’s Paper” tab at the very top of the page. The ad is on page B10. People can also call the World for a copy.
Only people who previously commented on the TRP are eligible to comment during the objection period, and the objection must relate to the previous comments unless it’s based on new information.
The final Environmental Assessment is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56554.