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The day before the Comet Fire located in the North Fork Ranger District was ignited by lightning, Salmon/Challis National Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark brought news to the Lemhi County Commissioners of a Record of Decision on a forest-wide invasive species Environmental Impact Statement. He said the proposal went through with zero objections and that it updates herbicide usage rules from fifteen years ago, especially those pertaining to use in aquatic environments

Mark reported the Record of Decision at the July 25 County Commissioners meeting and said the decision will also allow the Forest Service to do aerial spraying from helicopters. Aerial applications by the Forest Service have not been allowed in the past.

His update on Farm Bill projects included two that pertain to the Salmon/Challis Forest and deal with municipal watersheds. The Challis/Yankee Fork District will be implementing the Big Hill Insect and Disease Project under a categorical exclusion which allows treatment of up to 3,000 acres. The area is seven miles west of Challis and the project will treat around 2500 acres.

The other project approved is a categorical exclusion in the North Fork Ranger District which involves the Phelan-Sharkey Fuels Management Program. Mark said a decision on that project is expected in September or October and will involve from 2500 to 2600 acres.

In the Forest Plan Revision which is getting underway, the Salmon/Challis will be working collaboratively with the Sawtooth National Forestís explosive fuel situation. Mark said helping that area may be the next Farm Bill project.

As to the North Fork fuel reduction project Mark said there was a meeting the third week of July with Pyramid Lumber of Seeley Lake, Montana about the Stateline Stewardship Project in the Lost Trail Pass area. It is a shaded fuel break project and is one of the larger fuel management programs. Mark said the Salmon/Challis is also working on a stewardship fuel management project with the Lemhi County Economic Development Association. He said the concept is that under a stewardship agreement with the Forest Service LCEDA would have the ability to sell timber from a small, commercial post and pole unit in exchange for commercial thinning-service work. Mark said this is the first time the concept has been tried.

On the subject of Forest Service prescribed burns and subsequent smoke, Mark said the smoke is the result of the Forest Service making an effort to reduce wildfire threats and there is just no way to avoid it. He said ignition of the burns has to be timed with the right weather and ground condition windows in order to be successful. Protests were voiced earlier this year when one of the burning windows occurred during the Salmon Select Horse Sale. Mark said the agency will do a better job of communication in the future however; they still have to go with the narrow windows of time.

The Salmon-Challis is known as one of the hardest places in the nation to fight forest fires due to the rugged and remote terrain and every crew that comes in is warned of that fact.

Mark reminded the commissioners of the Lake Mountain Fire of 31 years ago which required shelter deployment. Shelter deployment indicates extreme risk of life to fire fighters and there are more instances of shelter deployment on the Salmon-Challis than any place else in the country. He said amazingly, the Lake Mountain fire was never studied to learn its lessons. Recently veterans of that fire were invited here to share their first hand life threatening experiences and get some closure on what happened. He said about 75 people attended and the event was successful.

More recently policies have been put in place in an effort to avoid such high risk extremes. Mark said in answer to the modern safety-first policy the National Cohesive Strategy is promoting putting more responsibility on the property owners and encouraging them to create resilient landscapes, use fire safe construction materials and advising communities to become fire adapted to lessen the risk to firefighters as well as to the public.

Mark said one of the challenges facing the fuel reduction effort is the weakening forest product infrastructure. As the infrastructure disappears due to lack of consistent supply, so do the outlets to make use of the excess fuel reduction materials. Mark commented that soon the Forest Service will be left to its own devises about what to do with forest products.

Mark said work on the new Forest Plan has begun with interested residents and a collaboration group will be formed to research and report what changes local people think need to be made. He said the first public information meeting is set for October 1.

In answer to a question from Commissioner Ken Miner regarding a reported gate closure on Carmen Creek Mark said he will look into it.

The commissioners thanked him for the report.

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