HAMILTON – Bitterroot Forest Supervisor Julie King signed off on a project Monday that would thin more than 2,300 acres of forest almost directly downhill from a fire burning southwest of Hamilton.
The Observation fire has already touched the western edge of the Westside Collaborative Vegetation Management Project, but officials are hoping that predicted wet and cooler temperatures will help keep that fire at bay.
The project is the second to last that needs to be done to complete a yearslong effort to reduce fuels along the border between private and federal lands on the west side the Bitterroot Valley. When completed, the project will have thinned about five miles of national forest along that borderline between Lost Horse and Roaring Lion creeks.
It proposes to treat 2,327 acres. Of that, 1,349 acres will be commercially logged and the remainder will be thinned mostly by contract crews. The project will also build about 3.8 miles of new road and decommission another 5.2 miles of road.
With King’s signature, Darby District Ranger Eric Winthers said the project is ready to get underway. The non-commercial thinning portion could start within the month.
The forest’s timber shop will put together a bid package for the commercial logging portion of the sale. Under a best case scenario, Winthers said logging could be underway as soon as late October.
The Forest Service worked with Ravalli County officials and homeowners along Blue Jay Lane to come to an agreement on one of the most contentious issues surrounding the project.
Homeowners along Blue Jay Lane were concerned about the potential damage to their privately maintained road. A deputy regional forester ordered Bitterroot Forest officials to work with the homeowners and county to find a solution.
“We’re still finalizing some of the work with the county,” Winthers said. “For the most part, the Forest Service will do the bulk of the work on the road … We’ll beef up the road, improve drainage and do some surfacing. It should be a lot better when we’re done.”
The Observation fire shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the proposed project if it doesn’t make any unexpected runs.
“The fire has lapped up to the western edge of the project,” Winthers said. “It may have burned some little trees … it had the potential to be much worse."