Forest Service Fired Up Over Plan

Roger Ferguson (Right) explains fuels reduction around his cabin at Camp Senia while Joe Josephson listens

On Thursday, June 6, USFS officials met at Camp Senia off of West Fork Road in Custer National Park for a tour of fire “treated” and “untreated” sites to show the before and after of forest fire treatment management. It was the next thrust of marketing the Greater Red Lodge Area plan (GRLA) or “gorilla.”

“We want the public behind it,” said Head Ranger Traute Parrie. Present from USFS were: Team Leader, Amy Waring, Fire Management: Jeff St o ckwe l l and Dr e w Grimes, biologist Barb Pittman, Silviculturist Dennis Sandbok and Custer/Gallatin Deputy Forest Supervisor Pam Gardner. Only three locals turned out for
the most extensive explanation of the project to date as well as Sara Jane Johnson (former USFS biologist,
founder of Native Ecosystems Council), and Joe Josephson with intern Molly Barth from Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

The first stop was Camp Senia, one of the earliest dude ranches. Cabin owner Roger Ferguson discussed treatments and praised the forest service’s efforts there. The 2008 Cascade fire had moved through the area but only 5 of 30 structures were lost. They attributed it to removal of all underbrush and nearby trees. Next stop was along West Fork Road to examine a clear cut area that had now regrown . “It’sbeen approximately 15-20 years,” explained Grimes.

Regrowth near a thinned campground was shown. “Only the edge of the campground had burned.” A Red Lodge resident said, “I think they are doing an excellent job explaining the project.” But, the 15-20 year period for regrowth concerned her. “I am concerned about the view.” If she didn’t like GRLA treatment she said, “This (view) is what I moved here for, years ago. I’d maybe leave.” Stockwell said it was unlikely
that roads near treatments affected the fire path. A local praised the cutting treatment and said an
untreated burned area “was ugly.” Some untreated areas along the canyon also had new tree growth
showing how the fire could skip. Stockwell said he didn’t believe GRLA plan would change even if the recent heavy rains impacted drought. “It was a dry fall. That means a lot of rain now, a lot of grass growth and possibly another dry fall. That means even more fire risk from high grass.” USFS Dennis Sandbok was more optimistic about its affects on soil and healthy forests. Joe Johnson also owned a cabin in the National Forest, at East Rosebud. The FS said the risk of fire was currently high in that area. The group toured Palisades Campground/Willow Creek area. The FS described the dense, lush growth as similar to Cascade/Camp Senia in 2008 before it burned.

The tour pulled over alongside Ski Run road, overlooking Red Lodge’s Grizzly Peak subdivision. Stockwell pointed to past prescribed burns with new aspen growths. An observer noted some areas not treated also showed healthy aspen stands. The tour ended at Nichols Creek where GRLA would treat the vegetation around this creek and fix the road. It is hoped some of the timber removed would help pay for the closed
road exhibiting deep erosion scars. Sara Jane Johnson opposed all treatments and said, “There is no good reason for logging in national forests.” The USFS displayed maps of four alternatives where treatments were removed or modified due to public input. Sara was particularly concerned with various treatments fragmenting critical habitat in the Red Lodge Creek area near the Montana’s DNRC Palisades Timber project line. “Lynx and grizzly do not go from patch to patch of habitat.” Grizzly, an endangered species, and lynx are present. Lynx is threatened in MT plains. One area by Red Lodge Creek proposed for aspen regeneration (lodge pole tree clearing) was near the DNRC line where cattle grazed unfenced. The FS said the purpose was to encourage aspen and diverse stages of pine not add grazing lands. Luther residents Henry Dykema and Richard Thayer objected to a tour during the workday. Dykema voiced other concerns
to Parrie: “I would prefer if you plan to take the public ‘to view’ this project that you bring them to the unique, healthy and resilient forest ecosystem that you plan to radically develop and change forever and make the argument here that this manipulation will be better for the forest.” Few locals took the tour compared to the growing numbers attending recent public meetings held after 5 p.m. Dykema continued, “I have a masters degree in wildlife biology and I stay current with applied as well as empirical science relating
to forest ecology and management.

I am aware of the stated rational for this proposal and with all due respect do not agree with either its premise or forecast outcome. I have seen too many healthy ecosystems negatively affected or completely destroyed by even good intentioned land managers.” Regarding an associated easement request by DNRC
Dykema said, “The ecosystem between the county road and road less area is a protected zone between the alpine wilderness and the populated plains available for non-motorized recreational activities. Developing a roadway through the middle of this drainage that will be legally available for unrestricted use by an entity that has completely contrary land management mandates, is “outrageous at best and in my view completely contrary to the public interest.” Some questioned the Camp Senia tour as a scare tactic to
push a plan that would not prevent fires. The USFS has stated GRLA would not prevent fires although the plan is “primarily fuel driven.” Waring is striving to find common ground with everyone. Financing has yet to be found. CCN requested a copy of public comments. The Red Lodge Creek area tour is scheduled for Friday, June 28. For comments: District Ranger, Beartooth Ranger District, 6811 Hwy 212 South, Red Lodge,
MT 59068. Phone 446-2103. Fax: 406-446-3918. Email: commentsnorthern-custer-beartooth@fs.fed.us. State re subject: GRLA Forest and Habitat Management Project