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The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the huge Upper North Fork Ecosystem Restoration Project has been completed according to North Fork District Ranger Ken Gebhardt. He told the Lemhi County Commissioners, August 11th, that the completion of the fuel reduction/ restoration project proposal is literally a big deal since it concerns an area near Gibbonsville which encompasses approximately 43,000 acres.

Gebhardt quoted Salmon-Challis Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark’s reference to the potential catastrophic fire threat in that area of forest as being a matter of ‘when’ it burns, not ‘if.’

He said the Forest Service has selected its preference and recommended EIS Alternative #1 to the regional office. Alternative #1 includes; temporary road construction in Roadless areas to aid in fuel removal, features vegetation management in urban interface areas and allows road connections that will provide fuel reduction access as well as aid in wildlife migration. He said the EIS also includes an economic analysis of local opportunities the sizeable restoration project is going to provide. Gebhardt said the implementation portion of the project will take from five to ten years and that many local entities will be involved in the implementation planning process.

Gebhardt said the agency’s preferred alternative ties together some of the vegetation projects done in years past as well as old timber harvest units and some of the previously burned sections of forest. He said the proposal helps build a strategic line of defense in the portion of forest thought to be the most likely point of ignition. It is hoped that by initially concentrating the fuel reduction in that area it will help lessen the likelihood of fire expansion into adjoining acreage.

Commissioner Chairman Bob Cope inquired about the status of a temporary road on the Anderson Mountain side above Pierce Creek. Gebhardt said there are two, what he calls stringer roads, which lead to Roadless areas and are proposed for decommissioning. He said a decision has not been made whether that will be in the form of partial decommissioning or full obliteration.

North Zone Forester and Team Leader Maggie Seaberg clarified the roads are on the west side and are classified as decommissioned roads not temporary roads. She said there is one “temp” road in the Roadless area and several that are outside the Roadless area.

Commissioner Rick Snyder said he prefers that roads be decommissioned by way of a gate, not by obliteration. Commissioner John Jakovac inquired as to the time-frame for making decisions on what form of decommissioning will be employed. Seaberg said a lot of the roads scheduled for decommission will be used one more time for timber sales or pre-commercial thinning therefore, the decommissioning will come after the sales are completed. She said the written road plan lists what forms of decommissioning would be acceptable ranging from gates to kelly-humps. She said each road treatment is different but at this point no methods have been specified.

Cope said there is one four or five mile long road in the Allen Mountain Roadless area that is of concern to the county because it is the only access to that drainage.

Cope told the Forest Service representatives that the county is obligated to provide emergency medical services, law enforcement and Search and Rescue operations on surrounding public lands. He said if some road in a drainage is contoured and someone in the drainage flips a 4-wheeler or a hunter gets lost or needs some form of emergency assistance there has to be a way to reach that location. He said the board has much less problem with closing a road at its beginning with a gate or kelly hump, either of which would still allow access. Cope added that if there are three roads in the same drainage not all are needed but there has to be one. He said the Forest Service has to also look at its own future management access needs since once a road is contoured, it’s gone. He advised restricted access rather than permanent closure.

Jakovac asked what determines what level of road decommissioning will be used and Gebhardt said it all depends on the resource involved. He said things taken into consideration are wildlife habitat, sedimentation issues or number of stream crossings on the road. Following that review the type of closure technique is determined. Gebhardt said decommissioning could involve gates or it could be pulling out stream culverts which, in effect, keeps the road in ‘storage’ for future access.

Cope pointed out that the raw earth resulting from obliteration of a road not only increases sediment flows it causes weed infestation. He said total road obliteration also costs a lot more to do. He said aside from the Allen Mountain road re-contouring, all other concerns from the county concerning the proposed North Fork project have been addressed at this time.

Gebhardt said the Upper North Fork Ecosystem Restoration Project EIS entered its 30 day pre-decisional objection period on July 31st. The time is set aside to receive objections from those who commented on the project during the scoping period and draft EIS comment period. Then there will be an additional 30 days for resolution of any objections received.

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