Lemhi County Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture


After months of tramping through rugged terrain in the vast Salmon Municipal Watershed located above the city and compiling all the data obtained, the US Forest Service has developed a proposed action for lessening the threat the overgrown, unhealthy forest is posing to the city’s water supply. 

At the November 15 meeting of the Salmon City Council North Fork District Ranger Ken Gebhardt introduced the interdisciplinary core team which has been engaged in the project aimed at protecting the city’s water quality and quantity.

Watershed Program Manager Dave Deschaine led the presentation depicting what the team has learned about the high fire risk area that is comprised of waters from Jesse, Chips and Pollard creeks as well as Turner Gulch. He said the huge overload of fuels in an area basically inaccessible to vehicular traffic is of great concern when combined with what an out-of-control wildfire could do to soils and vegetation and subsequently to the quality of run-off and present run-off cycles that constitute the city’s entire water supply. 

Deschaine listed the categories of collected information which ranged from insect populations to wind behavior in each canyon, moisture content per slope, watershed topography, fire history since the 1930’s along with present-day satellite and weather data. From that, fire behavior and burn pattern models were formulated. All the components went into the agency’s proposed actions to eliminate or at least help diffuse the threat.

Deschaine said the two main treatments being proposed for the 14,000 watershed acres will be to thin, pile and burn and, to use prescribed burning. He said that specific areas will be treated according to access logistics. He said that the Forest Service has prioritized the projected burn areas with the assistance of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and is proposing to treat from 500 to 700 acres per year for ten years at which time area conditions will be readdressed. All the treatments will be timed to synchronize with the watershed water cycles. 

North Zone Forest Service Project Manager Wade McPhetridge credited the collaborative group that has worked towards finding a solution to the Salmon Municipal Watershed problems. He mentioned the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group, the Salmon Valley Stewardship, the Idaho Fish and Game Department, local government officials including the Lemhi County Commissioners plus representatives from the environmental and timber communities. As to finances for the project he said there are some federal funds available and other grant money avenues. 

Gebhardt said the proposed treatment plan has been sent to the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group and the scoping process has begun. The agency intends to put the plan out for public input later this month or early in December. It will then move forward based on the input received. A final decision on the Salmon Municipal Watershed Plan is expected to be made by the fall of 2018 with an up to 15 year period of implementation.

Other Forest Service representatives in attendance and involved in the Municipal Watershed Project included Andy Klimeck, Jeremy Back, Nathan Eby, Tina Ruffing, Dan Garcia and Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark. 

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