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Upper North Fork Project Signed 12-9-14

Following several years of local collaborative work, the Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group are pleased to announce that the Final Record of Decision for the Upper North Fork Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) Ecosystem Restoration Project has been signed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Regional Forester, Nora Rasure. “This is a wonderful success for the Forest and our collaborative partners,” said Chuck Mark, Salmon-Challis National Forest Supervisor. “We have been working very closely with our partners over the past 6 years to develop a proposal to reduce hazardous fuels, restore plant communities and improve fish and wildlife habitat and I’m thrilled to be moving forward in a collaborative fashion,” he said.

Ken Gebhardt, North Fork District Ranger said the purpose of this landscape level project is to reduce hazardous fuels, restore plant communities, improve fish and wildlife habitat, and to create an environment that is more resilient to disturbance as part of a fire-adapted landscape. The project will also complement other completed, ongoing and planned fuels and vegetation treatments surrounding “at-risk” communities within the North Fork drainage; all of which address forest health conditions that are rapidly deteriorating, he said. The drainage is a mosaic of private and public land, and as such a landscape level management approach was used for developing the proposal. The project area includes the communities of Gibbonsville and North Fork that have widespread private land resources, and have been identified as “at-risk” communities by Lemhi County and the State of Idaho.

The North Fork River drainage has a high frequency of lightening caused fires, and has proven to support large fast moving fires in the past such as the 341,146 acre Mustang Complex of 2012 and the 32, 769 acre Saddle Complex 2011. Fires in the past have occurred in difficult terrain which is very difficult to manage, leaving human life, personal property, and natural resources in jeopardy. Existing forest conditions have created the potential for large-scale, high-intensity wildfires that threaten human life, property, and natural resources. This potential coupled with the project area’s high frequency of lightning-caused wildfires has created an environment where, if no action is taken, severe impacts from wildland fire would likely occur. This leaves surrounding communities and natural resources vulnerable to damage caused by these fires.

Gebhardt said that much of the work will include thinning timber stands and using prescribed fire treatments to help reduce the potential effect of large wildfires in the future. The decision includes mechanically thinning timber stands on approximately 4,535 acres, using ground based tractor harvest on 2,364 acres, skyline yarding on 1,032 acres, and potentially using helicopter tree removal on 1,139 acres. Prescribed burning will also occur throughout much of the project area including both post treatment of commercial timber harvest and large natural fuels units and meadows that may be less accessible. The project will also create strategically located fuel breaks, contribute to meadow rejuvenation, regenerate whitebark pine and aspen stands, enhance old growth, and improve wildlife habitat.

The Forest plans to begin implementing the Upper North Fork Project in early 2015. Maggie Seaberg, the District’s North Zone Forester and Project Team Leader, expects that much of this work will occur over the next several years including additional commercial timber sales, thinning contracts, fuels reduction work, prescribed burning, and fish and wildlife habitat and road improvements, all of which will have benefits to the local economy. Seaberg also stressed how important it was have the continued support of the local collaborative partners and the hard work and analysis completed by the Forest Service’s team of specialists.

The Lemhi Forest Restoration Group has been extensively and continuously involved in this project for the past 6 years. Gina Knudson of Salmon Valley Stewardship coordinates the group. Knudson said, “It is rewarding to see the amount of effort so many individuals and organizations put into Upper North Fork finally pay off.” The group’s first collaborative project, Hughes Creek, was credited with providing safe areas to manage the Mustang Fire in 2012. Hughes Creek also provided economic benefits to the local community. Between 2008 and 2012, $1,046,200 in earnings from implementing the Hughes Creek Project went to 250 private sector workers including 135 local workers and 25 students. Gebhardt said the Upper North Fork Restoration Project is significantly larger so even greater economic benefits to the area can be expected.

For Additional Information Contact Ken Gebhardt, North Fork District Ranger 208-765-2731

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