Dead trees in Medicine Bow National Forest

Dead trees can been seen Jan. 18 near the Green Rock Trailhead in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement for the Medicine Bow National Forest Landscape Vegetation Analysis project, also known as LaVA, and a public comment period is open through Aug. 20.

The draft includes a modified proposed action, to which changes have been made from a proposed action presented last summer. Changes, made in response to public comments and input from cooperating agencies, include new maps, an implementation review process and no permanent road construction.

Three open houses are planned for July 30-Aug. 2 in Laramie, Cheyenne and Saratoga. The Laramie meeting is set for 4-7 p.m. July 30 at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Laramie Regional Office, 1212 S. Adams St.

Forest Service spokesman Aaron Voos said the public meetings would include time for attendees to ask questions and speak with representatives from the Forest Service as well as cooperating agencies — Game and Fish, Wyoming State Forestry Division, Laramie County Conservation District, City of Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities and multiple conservation districts.

“The open houses are going to encourage one-on-one (conversations),” he said. “We hope people come with their questions.”

The Landscape Vegetation Analysis is a landscape-scale management proposal for the Snowy Range and Sierra Madre mountains that would allow for the treatment of beetle-killed trees during the next 15 years.

The project aims to allow for faster implementation of forest restoration projects on a larger scale using a variety of techniques. Restoration techniques include tree thinning, harvest, hazard tree removal and prescribed burning.

Such projects would reduce the risk of fire, allow beetle-killed timber to be taken to market and remove hazard trees from developed areas. The project is expected to benefit wildlife habitat, water supplies, road maintenance, views, recreation and public safety, according to the Forest Service.

“LaVA is a win for everything from forest health to community protection,” said Laramie District Ranger Frank Romero. “I look forward to once again interacting with our community during this comment period and hearing the ideas that come from public input.”

Within the 850,000 acres of national forest across both ranges, about 613,000 acres were identified in the Modified Proposed Action as having treatment potential. Within those acres, the total treatment area would be up to 360,000 acres. Temporary roads would be constructed and later decommissioned.

Potential treatment areas are limited by the Medicine Bow National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, which guides management in areas such as wilderness, roadless areas, big game habitat and areas of special interest.

The Forest Service is using a new planning strategy for the project called condition-based NEPA analysis, in which the environmental analysis is conducted over a broad area instead of at each specific treatment site. NEPA analysis is required of federal agencies by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The aim of the condition-based analysis is to allow for flexible, responsive treatment within criteria established by the decision. Districts can then identify projects that are ready to go.

Voos said changes in the modified proposal include new maps to better explain the projects, trigger points to guide the project’s adaptive nature, an implementation review process and an avenue for future public input.

“We’re not just going to do things in the dark,” he said. “The public will be aware of what’s being planned, what’s in process and what has happened.”

He said the Forest Service is especially interested in hearing public input about the latest changes to the project.

Following the close of the comment period, the Forest Service will create a draft decision, and projects could begin as early as next summer.

Go to www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51255 where the project documents can be viewed.

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