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Sheep Gap Fire Salvage Project Environmental Assessment Available for Public Comment

Plains, Montana Public comment is now being accepted on the Sheep Gap Fire Salvage Project Environmental Assessment (EA).  A June, 20 meeting will be held to share findings of the recently completed analysis. “Public response, along with the analysis of effects, will inform my decision on how to proceed forward with the project,” said Sara Mayben, acting Forest Supervisor for the Lolo National Forest.  In order to facilitate timely implementation of the project, the Forest Service is requesting an Emergency Situation Determination (ESD) pursuant to 36 CFR 218.21.  If an ESD is granted, the decision will not be subject to the pre-decisional objection process.


The EA summarizes the environmental effects of three alternatives including, No Action, Modified Proposed Action, and Expanded Proposed Action, which increases the number of acres proposed for timber salvage.  “These options were developed in response to public comment received on the Forest’s initial October 31, 2017 proposal to salvage dead and dying burned trees, remove roadside hazard trees, and plant trees in the Sheep Gap Fire that burned over 25,000 acres last summer near Plains;” said Pat Partyka, Interdisciplinary Team Leader for the project.  “The project’s activities are intended to recover economic value to contribute to local employment and income, reduce hazards to human health and safety, and re-establish forested conditions to aid in recovery of the burned area.” 


Environmental Assessments are prepared to determine if a proposed action could have a significant impact on the human environment that would warrant preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.  According to Dave Hattis, the Forest Service District Ranger that oversees management of the burned area, the analysis does not indicate a potential for significant impact from any of the three alternatives explored.  From the start, the project was carefully designed to avoid sensitive areas and minimize adverse effects.  “Various criteria and mitigation measures were applied to protect streams, sensitive soils, and wildlife habitat;” said Hattis.  The economic value recovered from salvaging some of the burned timber will help finance tree planting, hazard tree felling, and road maintenance activities necessary to address public safety concerns and resource protections in the burned area.  The majority of the project is located in an area allocated to timber management in the Lolo Forest Plan.  However, much of the fire will not be salvaged and will be left to recover naturally because of economic or environmental constraints.  In the areas that will be managed, timber salvage will contribute to employment and income in local communities.


The public meeting will include a brief presentation followed by an open house.  The meeting will be held on Wednesday June 20th, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Plains High School Library, 412 Rittenour in Plains, Montana.


For more information, please contact the Plains Ranger District at (406) 826-3821.  Project information is available on the Lolo National Forest website: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/lolo/landmanagement/projects.  Updates on the Sheep Gap Fire Salvage Project will also be posted on the Lolo National Forest Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lolonationalforest/


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