Logging could start next year
Logging and restoration in the Twisp Restoration Project (TRP) could begin next year, with a solicitation of bids for the Lookout Stewardship sale near Twisp this month. The Methow Valley Ranger District issued its final approval of the TRP on July 29.
The TRP has gone through multiple iterations and public reviews since it was first proposed in 2019. The ranger district reduced the project area by 69%, to just 24,140 acres, after 14% of the initial footprint was burned or affected by suppression activities in the 2021 Cedar Creek Fire.
The project covers the lower Twisp River and Alder Creek drainages. It includes treatments in Newby Creek, but most areas west of Buttermilk in the upper Twisp River drainage are no longer part of the project. The Little Bridge Creek and Wolf Creek drainages were also eliminated after the Cedar Creek Fire.
“This has been a challenging project that had a high level of partner and public engagement and was impacted by COVID-19 and wildfire,” District Ranger Chris Furr said in his announcement of the final decision. Public input helped shape and improve the decision, Furr said.
The ranger district will coordinate with the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative as they develop a monitoring strategy for the project, Furr said.
The TRP is intended to improve forest health and resistance to wildfire, particularly in the wildland-urban interface and in light of hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change. It is also intended to ensure a network of safe and efficient roads for travel and evacuation.
Current conditions in the project area resulted from a century of fire exclusion and timber harvest, the ranger district said in its analysis. That affected forest vegetation and increased tree density. It also increased vulnerability to wildfires, insects and disease. These conditions contributed to deterioration of fish and wildlife habitat, according to the analysis.
The district altered some components of the project in response to public feedback, including reducing the overall time frame from 30 to 20 years and retaining all trees with a diameter of 21 inches or larger at breast height unless they are significantly compromised by parasitic mistletoe.
The prescription was also changed so that larger trees are cut only when they’re near healthy trees. It now allows removal only of trees within 30 feet of a healthy tree, rather than 40 feet. Overstory thinning prescriptions retain trees that are at least 150 years old.
The district compared the approved treatments with one alternative — the effects of taking no action in the project area.
Logging, prescribed burning
The project area includes treatments on 550 acres of private land and 40 acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands. Parts of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that were eliminated from the TRP may be addressed in other forest restoration projects.
The TRP is expected to produce from 50,000 to 54,000 thousand board feet (50 to 54 million board feet) of commercial timber (approximately 13,400 truckloads) from 8,151 acres. About three-quarters will be Douglas fir, with the rest Ponderosa pine and a small amount of other conifers. Commercial logging will take place on 72 acres in riparian areas.
About two-thirds of the commercial logging will be done using traditional ground-based equipment. On steeper slopes, the TRP calls for skyline, helicopter or tethered logging systems.
The commercial harvest is expected to generate $2.28 million in revenue after subtracting costs of logging, hauling and roadwork, which will help fund the restoration treatments, according to the ranger district.
In addition, the TRP includes noncommercial logging for forest health on almost 14,000 acres. This includes thinning trees less than 10 inches in diameter at breast height, with the aim of leaving 50 to 75 trees per acre.
Treatment activities include ladder-fuel reduction to reduce the potential for a wildfire to spread. They will also remove or masticate biomass on more than 6,000 acres. Trees will be planted on 45 acres.
Plans call for prescribed burning, including underburning and pile burning, on more than 23,000 acres. Slash will be piled and burned two to three years after cutting, with plans for additional maintenance burning 16 to 20 years after the initial treatments. The project will construct about 100 miles of fireline to contain prescribed fire.
Seven structures will be installed to allow passage of fish and other aquatic organisms.
The Road’s End campground at the west end of Twisp River Road, which has four campsites, will be closed permanently, as will a fifth campsite at the Poplar Flat campground. The five campsites will be replaced by new sites at other campgrounds along that road.
At the end of the project, some roads will be permanently closed, but others will be added to the road network. Some roads will be converted to nonmotorized trails.
Seven individuals and organizations filed objections to the TRP proposal in June, during the final phase of the project review. Two conservation groups objected to the fact that there was no opportunity for the public to comment after the significant alterations to the TRP.
One of the groups, Conservation Northwest, raised concerns that the project design doesn’t adequately protect large, old trees. They also questioned whether the district would be able to carry out prescribed burns in a timely manner to prevent a build-up of dry, fire-prone materials.
The North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC) was concerned that the ranger district didn’t provide more of an opportunity for public involvement. NCCC is also concerned that the district split the TRP into several restoration and aquatic projects that are being reviewed separately.
These projects are connected actions that could have cumulative impacts on water quality and wildlife habitat, and the public must be given an opportunity to analyze these connected actions, NCCC spokesperson Ric Bailey said after the final decision was released.
In the final approval documents, the ranger district said all objections had been considered and that the responsible official adhered to the required public engagement processes.
If any of the objectors are not satisfied with the district’s response, their only recourse is litigation.
The ranger district plans to hold a meeting for the public in the spring of 2023 before implementation and groundwork begin.