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Fuels reduction project planned for Tally Lake district

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | April 7, 2021 1:00 AM

The public has until April 23 to comment on an environmental assessment for a large vegetation management project that has been proposed for the Tally Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest.

Known as the Stovepipe Project, the entire project area is approximately 32,400 acres.

Forest Service documents show the proposed project is located northwest of the Flathead Valley on the east side of Reid Divide and south and east of Tally Lake. That area encompasses the Lost Creek and Cliff Creek drainages as well.

The 107-page assessment states the purpose and need of the project is to reduce tree densities and fuel loadings to aid in fire behavior of the landscape, and more.

The area features dense forests, which increase the likelihood that fuel characteristics could support a fast-moving, intense crown fire, a type of blaze that is harder for fire firefighters and other emergency personnel to control.

The project specifically proposes commercial treatments, such as clearcuts and commercial thinning, on up to 5,041 acres, and non-commercial vegetation treatments, such as understory removal and prescribed burning, on up to 2,164 acres. The assessment states prescribed burning within the area would be implemented using hand slashing, piling and burning, and hand or aerial ignition on 573 acres.

Roughly 15.3 miles of roads would need to be constructed on the National Forest Service road system, with approximately 14.5 miles of that being closed yearlong to public motorized access after the project is complete. Additional actions include one mile of road decommissioning and 76 miles of “best management practices” applied to existing roads.

All of the proposed actions, according to the document, “could cause temporary disturbance to lynx,” though if denning lynx were discovered “operations would be modified if needed.”

The species, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, prefers dense understory. The proposed vegetation management activities would reduce multistory foraging habitat by more than 800 acres, and regeneration harvest treatment would take about 40 years to reach “predicted lynx use.”

The Stovepipe Project also falls within Zone 1 of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Recovery Area.

Overall however, the forage values for grizzly bears in the project’s analysis area are “moderate to low,” the availability of travel corridors between forage areas “is good, and cover patches are “adequate and well-dispersed.” The assessment also notes no geographic or man-made barriers exist within the area that would preclude grizzly bear movements to adjacent bear populations or recovery areas.

“Vegetation management, road management, and associated activities could disturb or temporarily displace grizzly bears during implementations. Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for grizzly bear would be completed on the proposed activities before the decision is finalized for the Stovepipe Project,” the document says.

Other wildlife species that may be impacted by the proposed actions include the bald eagle, elk, white-tailed deer, moose, fisher, gray wolf and the peregrine falcon. The possible effects the project may have on these species, should they exist in the area, vary widely.

The environmental assessment does not provide a proposed start date for the Stovepipe Project. To review the document and provide public comment, go to the Flathead National Forests’s project page at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=58217