Forest Service Offer Extended Hours to Discuss Hochatown Proposal

HOCHATOWN, Okla. – The U.S. Forest Service is offering extended hours to the public on Tuesday, February 13 to allow people to learn more about the Hochatown Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI (pronounced wooey) proposal.  While the public is invited to stop in to the Ranger District office at 111 South State Hwy 259A to talk about the project at any time, the extended hours (4:00-5:30 PM) will allow a greater opportunity to look over maps and talk to forest managers about the proposal. 

According to District Ranger Michelle Caviness, these extended hours and all public input is very important to the process.  “I welcome and strongly encourage public involvement and am available to listen to any concerns that will help us in the project development. The more input we can have towards this important project, the better the results will be on the ground.”

The Hochatown area has seen exponential growth in businesses and lodging venues as it’s tourism opportunities have become more widely known since the lands around Broken Bow Lake came into public ownership in 1996.  It is estimated that approximately 1,500 privately owned commercial cabins are dotted through the forested lands surrounding the community.  Forest officials say the situation contains many of the characteristics that made the 2016 fire in Gatlinburg, TN so dangerous and why this proposed project is a perfect example of what the National Wildfire Cohesive Strategy strives to achieve. 

The strategy focus is on three primary goals:

  • Restore and Maintain Landscapes-Landscapes across all jurisdictions are resilient to fire-related disturbances in accordance with management objectives
  • Fire-adapted Communities-Human populations and infrastructure can withstand a wildfire without loss of life and property.
  • Wildfire response-All jurisdictions participate in making and implementing safe, effective, efficient risk-based wildfire management decisions.  Providing for firefighter and public safety (life over property) is first and foremost!

The Hochatown WUI project proposal was first presented to the public on January 19 through a scoping letter to the Ranger District mailing list, generally the first step in the formal public involvement process.  The proposal objective is to decrease wildfire risk, and improve wildlife habitat within 6,200 acres around the Hochatown, Oklahoma area.  The proposed project is not part of other forest management projects that are currently ongoing.

The project proposal calls for creating a fireline or fuel break, between the National Forest and private property around Hochatown.  It also proposes managing vegetation that could intensify the severity of a wildfire.  By opening up some of these overgrown areas, wildlife habitat will also be increased.  Within the 6,200-acre proposed project area are several timber management activities.

  • A seed-tree harvest (an even-aged regeneration method in which new growth will develop beneath mature trees which are left as seed sources) is proposed to occur within an area of approximately 1,424 acres. Forty-acre seed- tracts, which have not been identified, will be located within the 1,400+ acre block. Forest managers typically use contours and ground features to layout seed-tree areas to better blend with the topography. It is not anticipated that any of these areas would be immediately adjacent to any private residence or cabins. The remainder of the stands between the seed-tree areas will be thinned.
  • A clearcut of 56 acres is approximately 1,424 acres.  Forty-acre seed- tracts, which have not been identified, will be located within the 1,400+ acre block. Forest managers typically use contours and ground features to layout seed-tree areas to better blend with the topography. It is not anticipated that any of these areas would be immediately adjacent to any private residence or cabins. The remainder of the stands between the seed-tree areas will be thinned.
  • Group Selection is proposed for approximately 664 acres.  Group Selection is an uneven-aged regeneration method in which trees are removed periodically in small groups. The remainder of the stands between the openings also proposed.  This area, totally surrounded by National Forest, would be converted from loblolly pine to native shortleaf pine. 
  • Forest thinning will be the primary timber management action across 3,022 acres.  This will entail removing some of the standing trees, allowing more sunlight and nutrients to improve the health of the existing stands of trees.  These areas will continue to be a mix of pines and hardwoods, if that is the primary component of the stand to be thinned.  Thinning often results in a condition many consider park-like.

Additional actions listed in the scoping letter will occur simultaneously on these 6,200 acres.  Forest managers say that with vegetation management and a regular cycle of managed prescribed fire, these areas often become favored for recreational pursuits, including wildlife viewing, hunting or hiking, and are important for removing fuels from the forest floor. 

“This project will improve habitat for many species of wildlife, including deer, turkey, quail, songbirds, and important pollinators such as butterflies,” said Caviness.  “Creating quality habitat is a major component to this project and several partner agencies and organizations will assist with project design and implementation.”

To be added to the mailing list to learn of projects on the Oklahoma Ranger District, contact the Ranger District office at (580) 494-6402 ext. 0. For more information on this project, logon to https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52139.

 

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ouachita/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD570743