The U.S. Forest Service is seeking comment on a large-scale management proposal for the Snowy Range and Sierra Madres that will allow for treatment of beetle-killed trees.
The Medicine Bow National Forest Landscape Vegetation Analysis Project aims to allow for faster implementation of forest restoration projects on a larger scale using strategies such as tree thinning, harvest and hazard removal. The comment period closes Monday.
“What this is intended to do is get the (environmental analysis) done on a large amount of land, which would then enable us move quicker to implement some of the projects while still meeting the standards and guidelines that we need to abide by,” said Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos.
About 350,000 acres are included in the proposal as having the potential for treatment during the next 10-15 years. Treatment would be done with machinery, hand tools and prescribed fire.
The project area includes all of the Snowy Range and Sierra Madres, which covers about 850,000 acres. About 10 miles of permanent roads would be built, according to the proposal, and up to 600 miles of temporary roads, which would be used to reach treatment areas. The Forest Service is using a new planning strategy called condition-based NEPA analysis, in which the environmental analysis is done over a broad area instead at each specific treatment site.
NEPA analysis is required of federal agencies by the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Lots of projects will come out of this decision,” Voos said.
The aim of the condition-based analysis is to allow for flexible, responsive treatment within criteria established by the decision.
“Within that (decision), individual districts or programs can identify which (projects) are ready to go,” Voos said.
Voos said the objective of the work is to allow for the harvest of beetle-killed timber, while also removing hazardous trees from areas where they threaten communities, roads and infrastructure.
“We want to provide industry with as much product as possible while it’s still viable,” he said.
The Forest Service is collaborating with a number of other agencies and organizations in this work, such as Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, Wyoming State Forestry Division, Wyoming Department of Agriculture and area conservation districts, among others.
“We’ve tried to get many agencies and groups on board with this project so we can end up with a good product as well as something that’s useful to these other agencies,” Voos said.
The Forest Service is hoping for as many comments and questions from the public as possible, especially if there are specific concerns, because of the large-scale nature of the project, Voos said.
A draft environmental impact statement is expected in December, with a final decision to come as early as next May.
“We’re really pushing hard and fast to get it done because it will impact a lot of what the Forest Service does in the very near future,” Voos said.