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The Salmon-Challis National Forest along with the Cobalt Ranger District, the City of Salmon, Lemhi County officials and the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group will be forming a partnership for the purpose of collecting information about how to reduce hazardous fuels in the Salmon Municipal Watershed and how best to protect it.

The 14,000 acre watershed includes Jesse Creek which is the town’s main source of water. A catastrophic fire in the headwaters of Jesse Creek could destroy Salmon’s water supply

North Fork District Ranger Ken Gebhardt, Salmon-Cobalt-Leadore District Ranger Jay Winfield and Forest Service North Zone Fuels Specialist and Project Team Leader Wade Phetridge spoke to a meeting of the Salmon City Council on February 1. Timber Management Assistant for the North Zone and co-team leader Maggie Seaberg was also in attendance.

The three spokesmen explained the agency has been collecting watershed data since 2012 and the project is now entering a public comment phase.

Gebhardt said an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the area, which is part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, will start with a Project Initiation Letter (PIL) this year. The intention is to do the EA during the Winter of 2017-18. Winfield said the plan is to implement the project in 2019 and that it could continue into 2025.

Project Team Leader Phetridge described the treatment area’s perimeters and distributed packets of pictures which document the fuel load and vegetation types in each section that is under study.

He said that it took nine hours for him and Gebhardt to walk down the Pollard Creek drainage due to the rugged terrain and very dense down and dead fuel load. He said from his hiking he has learned that Pollard Creek goes subsurface twice and Jesse Creek disappears beneath the ground once in an area that is about a mile long. He said the drainage is loaded with shale, steep and quite inaccessible. He said that trying to log the small diameter materials within the drainage is really not an option. Phetridge said the only place for possible post and pole or firewood harvest is along the access road that leads to the power line which is another area of great concern in terms of potential damage from fire.

Winfield said there are many fuel reduction possibilities such as: prescribed fire, non-commercial thinning, mastication of the woody materials and firewood. He said there are areas pickup trucks could access for firewood collection.

In the course of the research some Memorandums of Understanding between the city and the Forest Service dating to 1939 and revised in 1975 have been found and Gebhardt urged the council to look at the relevancy of those MOU’s as related to today’s needs. He said some of the old agreements would actually restrict effective treatment of hazardous fuels within the watershed. He said the old agreements need to be revisited sooner rather than later.

The Forest Service Team promised to keep the City Council updated as the project progresses.

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