The Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest released its final decision for the Elk Smith Project late last week. The release of this decision starts a 45-day objection period before implementation work can begin.
The 10,331-acre Elk Smith Project was a result of a landscape level assessment of the southern portion of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District. In 1988, the Canyon Creek Fire caused high severity burns and associated impacts to the Elk and Smith creeks area. Consequently, continuous stands of lodgepole pine regeneration and heavy loadings of large fuels are present. The analysis determined the Elk and Smith creek areas as high priorities for vegetation treatments through the use of prescribed fire.
Although a majority of the project is within inventoried roadless area, the roads that are accessible lead to homes, campgrounds, and recreation spots, which are all considered wildland urban interface. Treatment activities involve hand-slashing of small conifers (up to 16 feet tall) and/or prescribed burning (broadcast and jackpot) across 15 units within the project area. Proposed activities would reduce fuel loading, which will increase the potential to effectively manage, especially relative to personnel safety and financial costs, potential future wildfire within the project area and on lands immediately to the west of the project area.
More specifically, treatments will help to accomplish the following objectives:
- Diminish the future risk of high-intensity, high-severity wildfire within the project area by interrupting the continuity of fuels, specifically continuous stands of lodgepole pine regeneration and heavy loadings of larger fuels;
- Diminish the potential for wildfire to spread into the Benchmark corridor to the north and onto private land east of the National Forest boundary;
- Recreate a diverse landscape that is more resilient to fire by retaining mature areas, disrupting dense areas, and enhancing or re-creating grassland openings; and
- Increase flexibility to allow lightning-caused wildfire to play its natural role in adjacent lands and the nearby designated Scapegoat Wilderness.
In addition to the primary purposes of the Elk Smith Project, secondarily the project is designed to:
- Protect culturally significant sites or areas;
- Improve or protect several types of wildlife habitats from the threat of high-intensity wildfire;
- Promote aspen regeneration in certain areas;
- Protect and enhance existing whitebark pine stands;
- Prevent increases in susceptibility of forest stands to mountain pine beetle or other infestations; and
- Maintain or enhance Westslope cutthroat trout habitat or opportunities for habitat.
The release of the final decision for the Elk Smith Project begins a 45-day objection period. Individuals or groups who submitted specific written comments during the official public scoping period are eligible to file a formal objection to the project. Objections can be filed one of four ways:
- Regular mail to: Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804;
- Fax: 406-329-3411;
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org with “Elk Smith Project” in the subject line; or
- Hand-delivery: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula during regular business hours (Mondays--Fridays, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays).