LOCAL PARTNERS COMPLETE MUNICIPAL WATERSHED PROJECT PLAN

Contact(s): Amy Baumer


SALMON, ID – Following several years of data gathering, field surveys, environmental planning, and collaborative meetings, the Salmon Municipal Watershed Fuels Reduction Project Decision was recently signed by North Fork District Ranger, Ken Gebhardt.  The project is a result of a multi-year effort by several partners including the U.S. Forest Service, Lemhi Forest Restoration Group, City of Salmon, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Roadless Commission, and the public.  The decision authorizes hazardous fuels reduction treatments (thinning and prescribed fire) both within and outside the watershed boundary over a period of 10-20 years to help protect water quality and quantity for the City of Salmon.

“The overall goal of this project is to help protect water quality and quantity for the City of Salmon while also protecting the City of Salmon from uncharacteristic wildfire events that could negatively impact these areas,” said Ken Gebhardt.  To meet this goal, Forest Service specialists evaluated various treatments and the potential impacts to water quality, watershed health, soils, fisheries, wildlife, plants, timber, and cultural resources and determined that 500-700 acres (within the watershed boundary) could be treated annually over a period of 10-20 years.  This treatment strategy and timing will help ensure watershed recovery between thinning and prescribed fire treatments.  Thinning and prescribed fire planned for areas outside of the watershed boundary will have no acre or time constraints and will be implemented as soon as possible.

“This decision is monumental given the time all partners have invested in getting to this point and what it means for protecting the numerous values of our watershed,” noted Toni Ruth, Executive Director of Salmon Valley Stewardship.  “The Lemhi Forest Restoration Group (LFRG) began discussing the Salmon Municipal Watershed in 2006, when the Collaborative began.  The Phelan-Sharkey Hazardous Fuels Reduction project, signed in 2016, was the first phase of agreement in protecting the watershed.  Public meetings in 2017, as well as input from the city and county, helped us better understand the values and concerns around treatments in the Salmon Municipal Watershed and coupled with state of the art fire behavior modeling by the Forest Service team shored up agreement on how we could proceed.”

The Forest Service also met with the City of Salmon and the public on several occasions during development of the project.  “It was critical to get the City and public’s input and support on this project,” said Gebhardt.  “We are in this together and I am looking forward to working on a new agreement with the City of Salmon.”  Mayor Leo Marshall said, “We appreciated the Forest Service working on this watershed project to help eliminate the possibility of future fires.”

The 13,546 acre Salmon Municipal Watershed provides water to the City of Salmon.  It is characterized as remote, steep, and in many places inaccessible due to the terrain, remote character, and thick vegetation.  The watershed was also designated as an Idaho Roadless Area due to its’ roadless and pristine character even though logging, road building, and mining have occurred in the past.  Past insect and disease outbreaks, limited timber harvest, inaccessible terrain, and successful fire suppression efforts have all contributed to the accumulation of dead and dying hazardous fuels within watershed.  This excessive accumulation of dead and dying trees within and outside the watershed has contributed to a greater risk of a large wildfire that could negatively impact water quality and quantity and threaten the City of Salmon.

To address the accumulation of hazardous fuels and reduce the risk of a large wildfire from negatively impacting the Salmon Municipal Watershed in the future, the Forest Service and partners will now begin implementing various vegetation thinning and prescribed fire treatments over the next 10-20 years.  It is anticipated that 500 to 1,000 acres will be treated annually both within and outside the watershed boundary including tree thinning, piling, pruning, and mastication.  The goal of these vegetation treatments is to reduce the chance of future wildfires from spreading from the ground into the tree canopy and becoming a much larger fire.  It is anticipated that future prescribed fire treatments including pile burning and broadcast burning will be utilized on over 13,000 acres during the next 25 years.  The work will be completed by various mechanical methods and hand crews as well as by helicopter aerial ignitions in more remote areas.

Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark is pleased with the work that has been accomplished by the team and partners.  “We will have wildfire within the Salmon Municipal Watershed in the future,” he said.  “It’s not a matter of if but when.  The benefit of this project is that we are being proactive about hazardous fuels reduction in an area that is critical to the City of Salmon.  The intent of the fuels treatments is to reduce the impacts of future wildfires.  We’re also helping provide a safer environment for our firefighters,” said Mark.

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