Lemhi County Citizen Journalism


North Fork District Forest Service Ranger Ken Gebhardt told the Salmon City Council January 17 that the time has arrived to take the agency’s Jesse Creek Salmon Municipal Watershed fuel reduction proposals to the public. The in-depth study that began last year covers 13,817 acres and is aimed at reducing catastrophic fire risks to the town’s water supply.

Gebhardt turned the narrative over to North Zone Forest Service Project Manager Wade McPhetridge who outlined the agency’s proposed action to protect the area’s water quality as well as quantity.

McPhetridge said that Forest Service Geographical Information System (GIS) specialist Andy Klimeck has determined there have been 53 fire starts within the watershed boundaries since 1919. That equates to an average of one fire every two years. The whole intention of the study has been to find the best way to decrease the intensity of those fires, thereby reducing the risk to the city of Salmon’s water supply.

McPhetridge said that agency proposals include reducing tree stand density, decrease the impacts to riparian habitat conservation areas and increase tree canopy base heights. The rugged area is mostly inaccessible to motorized vehicles and the thinning will be done with chainsaws, hand saws, rakes and axes. The debris will then be piled inside the project area boundaries for burning and outside the watershed boundaries where the piles can be reached by mechanized equipment such as masticator chippers. Various burning techniques will be used throughout the whole project area however broadcast burning will only be done in the Pollard and Chip Creek drainages as recommended by Forest Service Water and Soil Specialist Dave Deschaine. 

McPhetridge said existing roads and natural fuel breaks will be utilized as fire breaks. He said all fire line access trails or campsites used for treatment implementation personnel will be rehabilitated as per best management practices rules and guidelines. Attention will also be paid to weed treatments to prevent introductions or spread of invasive species and, where appropriate, there will be promotion of fire adaptive tree species such as Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine plus identification of fire dependent species such as Aspen. He said efforts will be made to retain any large legacy trees like the 34 inch circumference Spruce Trees found during the study.

Project proposals will also consider future construction of fences and other barriers to safeguard the water shed’s health and water quality.

Gebhardt told the council the whole purpose of the proposed treatments being recommended is to decrease the accumulations of hazardous fuels that would, in the event of a large forest fire, impact water quality for the city of Salmon. He said the proposed actions being described will likely take from 10 to 15 years of implementation. For the protection of water quality and quantity the treatments might be done over time in parcels of from 200 to 500 acres per year. Gebhardt said that time frame will also allow for a balance of the resources and wildlife. 

Now that all the information has been collected it is time for official public scoping which is expected to begin at the end of January. Gebhardt said the public comments during the scoping will help the agency develop treatment alternatives. The next step is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process where the selected alternatives will be evaluated by specialists. 

In the meantime Gebhardt said he would like to begin working with the city to develop a new Memorandum of Understanding between the Forest Service and the city since the old, and still current, MOU pertaining to the Salmon Municipal Watershed does not allow for some of the fuel reduction treatments being recommended.

Times and dates of public comment meetings will be announced.

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