No impacts found for Taylor Hellroaring project

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The Flathead National Forest has released a draft decision and finding of no significant impact for the Taylor Hellroaring Project.

The timber management and trail project is planned for the Tally Lake Ranger District northwest of Whitefish.

Forest Supervisor Chip Weber last week released a decision notice on the project, selecting a combination of alternatives proposed for the project that includes construction of 28 miles of trail and vegetation management on about 1,800 acres.

“I feel the selected alternative best addresses and balances the project purpose and need, concerns from the public, and effects to resources,” Weber said in his decision.

The environmental assessment, in order to help achieve desired resource conditions, describes five needs of the project — provide a range of trails, increase forest resilience, reduce forest fuels, restore whitebark-pine and white pine and wildlife species habitat and security. The 7,808 acre project area includes the Whitefish Face area, which is located in the Whitefish Range, from Haskill Basin to Werner Peak.

Under trails, the project calls for constructing 28 miles of trails that would connect the Whitefish Trail system to existing forest service trails. The decision says this would “provide opportunities for users to disperse into more remote and challenging trails with great opportunities for solitude.”

An alternative of the project suggested creating about 40 miles of trail, while another looked at 26 miles of trail.

To address comments about concerns with trail impacts to neighbors, and related to wildlife and human interactions and wildlife habitat the trails were restructured. About 14 miles of trail will also be located on existing roads.

“The proposed trail system would also create non-motorized trails that would enhance recreation experiences and provide for safety, environmental protection, and operational efficiency,” the decision says. “Trails would be located, designed, constructed and maintained to limit the risk of user and wildlife/human conflicts.”

The decision says that comments expressed concerns that adding trails wold create a situation where mountain bikes would move at high speed on trails and create the opportunity for conflicts with wildlife. The decision notice says the project looks to reduce the likelihood of conflicts through the project design that would include education at traileheads about how to recreate in bear country and the trail design would look to reduce speed, particularly for mountain bikes by using trail switchbacks.

Work includes upgrading the existing Holbrook Overlook parking area to a designated trailhead and crating up to 10 pullouts on open forest service roads, primarily the Taylor Creek Road.

Equestrian use was determined to be incompatible on some segments of the trail because of anticipated level of use and terrain.

Under the goal of increasing forest resilience to insect infestation and disease and wildland fire, the project calls for commercial thinning on 527 acres to reduce tree density and allow for improved growth.

To reduce the fuels risk and values in the Wildland Urban Interface, Whitefish Mountain Resort and electronic sits along the Whitefish Divide, the project calls for 359 acres of hazardous fuels reduction and 500 acres of prescribed burns.

The hazardous fuel reduction treatments would “increase fire resilience in the stands” and prescribed burns would “break up the continuity of fuels” and reduce the risk and impact of a large stand replacement fire in the future, according to the decision.

The project includes two activities to restore the rust-resistant whitebark pine and western white pine — a portion of the commercial thinning would allow for planting of western white pine and rust-resistant whitebark pine would be planted on a portion of the 500 acres of prescribed burn treatments.

Maintaining and improving wildlife species habitat and security would be accomplished as a result of vegetation management what would creating openings, improving foraging and browsing areas, and facilitating tree growth would improve habitat.

“A diverse forest structure, in turn, lends to increased wildlife activity,” Weber says in the decision.

To facilitate the vegetation treatments approximately 0.8 miles of road construction and adding 3.2 miles of existing road templates to the system could be developed then closed and placed in stored status for future use. About a half-mile of temporary roads would be built and then rehabilitated following use.

The project was initiated and analyzed, but not approved in 2018 under the former 1986 Flathead National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, so analysis was updated to be compliant with the new 2018 Flathead National Forest Plan.

A legal notice published on Aug. 9 began the start of a 45-day objection period.

Objection can be sent to: Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804 or via email to appeals-northern-regional-office@usda.gov with “Taylor Hellroaring Project Objection” in the subject line.

Project documents are available at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50518.

For more information, contact Tami MacKenzie, project leader, at 406-758-3508 or tamara.mackenzie@usda.gov, or the district office at 406-758-5204.

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