The U.S. Forest Service is accepting public comments for timber sales set on an 11,000-acre watershed south of Avery in the St. Joe National Forest.
The sales, part of one project unit, are meant to decrease fire danger and provide rural jobs, according to the Forest Service.
Timber harvest of diseased lodgepole pine and dying fir in an area called Brebner Flat is slated for approximately 1,900 acres and will include 40-acre clearcuts, 2½ miles of new roads and 4 miles of temporary roads, according to the proposal.
The Forest Service has opened a 30-day comment period for the project.
Matthew Davis, district ranger, said an underlying purpose of the project is to reduce the fire potential in an area close to towns and human activity.
“We’re trying to do projects like this to reduce the fire fuels effectively,” Davis said.
The lodgepole pine stands in the area are overmature, dying and infested with mountain pine beetle, “or are considered at high risk for … attacks,” according to a Forest Service report.
Ben Timchak, timber harvest manager for the district, said another problem is root disease in the Douglas and true fir in the project area.
“Overall, the stand density is not conducive to a healthy stand and species we’re looking for,” Timchak said.
Root disease is also prevalent in western hemlock, pine and Engelmann spruce in the project area, he said. The Forest Service plans to manage the site for white pine, Ponderosa pine and western larch, which are considered a more resilient species that were historically dominant in the area, he said.
Western larch and Ponderosa pine are considered the most fire resistant trees in the western forests, according to the Forest Service.
Last year more than 8 million acres burned nationally including 1.3 million acres in Montana, which received federal disaster assistance for fires near Seeley Lake, Lincoln, Libby and in Sanders County. More than $280 million was spent on Montana fire-fighting efforts by August.
On average, fires each year burn 5.4 million acres nationally, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
“We got lucky on the Joe,” Timchak said.
A similar timber sale called the Halfway Malin, which includes the Malin Creek drainage north of the St. Joe River, was approved last month.
It includes timber harvest on 885 acres — approximately 18 million board feet.
In addition to fire mitigation, Davis said his agency considers the economic value of each project.
“We take a hard look at the economic viability and what the estimated timber harvest means to local communities,” he said.
Depending on which company wins the bid for timber sales in the project area, the logs may be shipped and processed in Montana and Idaho mills.
If the Brebner Flat project is approved after public comments and environmental concerns are addressed, the project could begin in the summer of 2019, Timchak said.
Comments may be sent to Idaho Panhandle National Forest All Units, 3815 Schreiber Way, Coeur d’Alene, ID, 83815, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.