The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is proposing a timber sale in the Stillwater State Forest with the goal of fuels reduction and timber management, while generating timber harvest as its required to do so under state law.
The initial proposal for the timber sale, termed Beaver-to-Boyle, was released last month for the sale near Beaver Lake extending north to Boyle Lake. The proposed project area is about five miles west of Whitefish and is planned to be accessed off Lupfer Road.
DNRC representatives from the Stillwater on Saturday held a field tour of a portion of the project area. The comment period for the initial proposal ends May 10.
“We want to get your input on concerns,” Dave Ring, unit manager for the Stillwater, said to the roughly dozen people who attended the tour. “We want you to tell us what you think about past treatment areas and the proposed area.”
An environmental assessment of the proposal is also expected to begin this fall to examine a number of issues related to the timber sale including hydrology, soils, wildlife, aesthetics and recreation while developing mitigations for concerns, representatives noted.
The sale is expected to generate 2 million to 5 million board feet of timber on School Trust lands from an estimated 900 acres.
Mike McMahon, forest management supervisor with the Stillwater, says the timber sale area has many areas that will be examined more specifically this summer to determine what sections will receive what types of treatment.
“We’re expecting to harvest 2 to 5 million, but that will depend on where the final units end up,” McMahon said. “Some areas have a lot of volume and some don’t.”
The timber sale is expected to focus on improving growth for western larch and likely harvest primarily lodgepole and Douglas fir, he noted.
About 40 to 60 percent of the existing trees are proposed to be harvested through a commercial thin to reduce density and forest fuels, while improve species diversity by creating openings and growing sites. Improvement harvest, a more selective harvesting technique, is also planned and involves pockets of a variety of techniques including thinning, removal of trees at a high risk for mortality, leaving some areas unharvested, and tree planting, with the goal of reduce fuels, but also increase growth of preferred species. During further refinement of the actual harvest area, McMahon, said DNRC will look at key areas that should be preserved for wildlife habitat and corridors, areas that can’t economically be harvested, areas to leave older trees, how to promote growth through thinning and also fuels reduction. The Beaver Lake area also contains numerous cliff areas, some wet areas and ravines which would not be harvested.
The primary objective of the sale, according to DNRC, is to generate timber harvest for DNRC to generate revenue for the School Trusts and Forest Improvement Fund accounts.
McMahon said about 75 percent of the funds from the sale will go to the School Trusts and the other 25 percent goes back to the DNRC for items such as wages and vehicles. The sale will also generate funds for roads maintenance.
A portion of the timber sale includes the Whitefish Trail section that runs from the Beaver Lake trailhead to around Woods Lake, Dollar Lake and Little Beaver Lake are included in the proposed timber project. The city of Whitefish, along with Whitefish Legacy Partners, holds the recreation use easements in the project area.
Ring said the city and Legacy Partners ultimately determine what timber harvest will happen in the trail corridors.
“They have the final say in their corridor,” Ring said. “But we might look at an area that has a tree that could be a hazard and ask if they’d like us to remove it. We’re also going to be looking at feathering the harvest treatment in areas up against the trail corridor to minimize impact.”
Ring said DNRC expects to have conversations with the city and Legacy Partners about the timber sale’s impact to the trail corridor.
“This is the first timber sale we’re doing since the easement and we want to do it right the first time so they know what to expect from us,” he said.
As part of the timber sale project, one existing road is planned to be reconstructed and one new road, at about 850 feet in length, is planned.
Following the comment period, the timber sale plan will be refined this summer and then DNRC will go through an environmental review with the environmental assessment set for release in early 2019 and a final decision in April 2019. The timber sale will likely then go up for bid and logging could begin in the winter of 2019 and work in the area could last through 2024.
The full timber sale proposal is available at http://dnrc.mt.gov/public-interest/public-notices/BeavertoBoyle_web.pdf
Comments on the proposal are due by May 10 to DNRC, Matt Lufholm, Stillwater Unit, P.O. Box 164, Olney, MT, 59927 or firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-881-2371.