Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) The Bureau of Land Management is planning on logging and thinning portions of the Garnet Range east of Missoula but is asking for public input on its proposal.

The BLM Missoula Field Office this week published an environmental assessment proposing thousands of acres of logging and thinning in an area dubbed the “Clark Fork Face” north of Interstate 90 approximately between Clinton and Drummond. The work is tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring and will likely continue through multiple contracts for about 10 years. The public has two weeks to comment.

The BLM owns parcels amounting to 23,666 acres, some of which are widely scattered among 138,500 acres of private and Stimson Lumber Company land and 55,700 acres of other public land.

The Stimson Lumber Company is gradually selling its land into private ownership, creating a wildland urban interface that didn’t used to exist. There are now roughly 2,600 homes and structures in the area surrounding the BLM land.

“The remaining large private landownerships are expected to be divided and sold into small ownerships as the trend of subdivision and development continues. More and more people are expected to move into the area, pushed out of areas of higher development by real estate costs and the opportunity to create their own place,” the report said. “What was once a large industrial forest ownership is now overwhelmingly small, nonindustrial private landowners who are constructing homes and buildings in the forest.”

The BLM says the project would reduce the risk of wildfire in the wildland urban interface. But it’s not likely to have much effect if other landowners don’t complete similar work on their land.

Most of the BLM work would occur around Anderson Hill and Union Peak. Within more than 19,000 acres of BLM land, the office would offer commercial timber contracts on almost 10,000 acres, do thinning on almost 1,500 acres and fuels management on almost 2,400 acres.

“We want to address upland forest conditions in the Clark Fork River vicinity that have shifted away from fire-tolerant, open stands dominated by large-diameter, widely-spaced Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and western larch toward less fire-tolerant stands dominated by smaller, more densely-spaced trees,” said Kyle Johnson, forester with the Missoula Field Office.

In the commercial timber harvest areas, skyline cables would be used on almost 60% of the plots while tractors would be used for the rest of the work. Between 300 and 1,000 acres would be logged each year followed by prescribed burning.

The EA emphasizes the need for more logging to support the local economy, saying the 50 million board-feet produced could build about 3,500 homes.

The BLM would build 16 miles of new permanent roads, which would then remain but be closed to public motorized use. Six miles of temporary roads would be built and then made impassible when they’re no longer needed. In addition, 19 miles of roads already existing on the land would be added to the BLM system.

The BLM considered an alternative that included no new roads but that would limit commercial logging opportunities to about 5,800 acres, a 40% decrease.
The area where the logging will occur is habitat for grizzly bears, wolverine and Canada lynx.

The BLM consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which concluded on Nov. 8 that the project would “affect and be likely to adversely affect” grizzly bears and lynx, both of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the project sits in lynx critical habitat, Swan Valley Connection biologists have reported that no lynx currently reside in the Garnet Range although one population existed a couple decades ago. But grizzly bears are showing up in the area more regularly.

Five grizzly bears have denned in the Garnet Mountains over the past 20 years.
In 2020-21, a grizzly dubbed “Lingenpolter” traveled through the area on his way from the Mission Mountains to the Flint and Sapphire mountains south of I-90.

Then this year, Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists collared two sibling bears in the Bitterroot and placed them in the Welcome Creek Wilderness in the Sapphire Mountains. The bears then moved back north through the Garnet Mountains to the Scapegoat Wilderness.

According to the EA, “FWP considers the planning area to be an important “steppingstone” for linkage between grizzly population centers.” The EA concludes that “while disturbance could cause short-term impacts to individual bear energy expenditure and fat deposition, secure grizzly bear habitat would be minimally affected by this project.”

About 2.5% of the logging occurs in secure grizzly habitat.Wolverines aren’t protected and the Service concluded the project “was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the wolverine.” The most recent wolverine sighting was 2009 but wolverines avoid areas where humans live and recreate.

To submit comments, email your comment to kdjohnson@blm.gov. The comment period closes at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16.

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