The Bitterroot National Forest is taking comments on a proposed timber sale and vegetation management project in the Sapphire Mountains northeast of Stevensville.
The Forest is proposing to manage vegetation and reduce fuels on 238 acres in and next to the Threemile Wildlife Management Area. It says is entirely within the Wildland-Urban Interface -- the area of forest that mixes with human development and is at risk for wildfire.
“I’d like to see it left alone," said Jim Miller, president of Friends of the Bitterroot. “The state is going to do 1500 acres of logging. Why is the Forest Service throwing in another 240? I don’t see any reason to do that. There are wildlands, but there is nothing urban about this area. It’s miles away from any community.”
The Bitterroot Forest’s intent is to improve forest health and resilience against fire, insects and disease. It also aims to provide jobs, income and timber to local communities and to reduce fire hazards.
The project area is made up of Forest Service land surrounded by a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife management area. FWP is proposing about 1,500 acres of vegetation management there to improve elk habitat. The project would include road upgrades that would make it easier to access the 238-acre area.
Together the Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Fish Wildlife and Parks plan to use Good Neighbor Agreement authority, which allows the Forest Service to work with states to restore watersheds and manage forests on federal and non-federal lands. That authority was approved as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.
“In terms of the landscape and the size of the project, it’s small potatoes and not significant," Miller said. "But what is significant is the way that it is being conducted. Federal lands, the public’s national forests, are being turned over to the state for management. That’s a dangerous precedent.”
The 2006 Bitterroot Community Wildfire Protection Plan labeled the area a “high priority” for fuels reduction in the Wildland Urban Interface.
According to the Stevensville Ranger District, the Bitterroot’s project would not have significant effects on people or the environment, nor require formal assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.
MTPR reached out to the Bitterroot National Forest for an interview but did not hear back.
Public comment is open until March 11. The Stevensville Ranger District is hosting an open house on Wednesday, February 13 in Stevensville to provide more information.