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The Bitterroot Forest released its draft decision notice and finding of no significant impact last week on the second phase of its Darby Lumber Lands project. Work could get started as early as next summer.

The Bitterroot National Forest’s second phase of its Darby Lumber Lands project is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of proposal.

When implemented, there will be some logging, roadbuilding, prescribed fire, non-commercial thinning, road decommissioning and some new loops created for ATV enthusiasts on the 27,453-acres that once belonged to the Darby Lumber Company.

The Bitterroot Forest released its draft decision notice and finding of no significant impact last week.

Work on the project could get started as early as the summer.

“The draft decision is out for review right now,” said Darby District Ranger Eric Winthers. “People can file objections if that’s something they want to do.”

The first phase of the project was completed in 2016. It focused on improving the watershed and stream health including chronic sediment from an extensive road system built decades ago for timber management. It also created a trail system for motorcycle and ATV travel.

The second phase continues on that theme and incorporates vegetation management activities, including commercial harvest of 1,260 acres on dry pine sites. The proposal includes two clear cuts of 95 and 40 acres to address disease issues.

The project is expected to provide more than 5 million board feet of timber.

The timber harvest portion of the project is mainly in the Roan Gulch and Harlan Creek areas near Tabor Mountain. The area borders the North Meadow Lake Estates Subdivision and some large ranches, Winthers said.

“We want to address that wildland-urban interface,” he said.

About four miles of permanent road and the same amount of temporary roads would be built as part of the project. Two new off-highway vehicle trails, each less than 50-inches wide, would connect up to a series of old roads to create new ATV loop trail opportunities.

“We have heard the trails that were created in the first phase have been popular with ATV riders,” Winthers said. “As word gets out about this opportunity, it seems like we are seeing more people parked at the bottom at Rye Creek Road and Highway 93 and at other forest trailheads.”

The Bitterroot Forest received about 30 comments from people interested in different aspects of the proposal.

Under the current rules, only those people who commented on the project are allowed to file an objection. The objection deadline is April 10.

Objections may be delivered or mailed to: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, ATTN: Objection Reviewing Officer, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804. Electronic objections may be submitted to: Faxed objections may be submitted to 406-329-3411. Please specify “Darby Lumber Lands – Phase II Project Objection” in the subject line.

Hand delivered objections must be delivered between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays. All objections are open to public inspection and will be posted to the Forest Service website.

“We will have 45 days to address the objections,” Winthers said. “If everything goes as planned, we should have a final decision by May or June. We hope to offer the timber portion of it soon thereafter.”

The Forest Service acquired the lands previously owned by Darby Lumber in 2013. The 45-square-mile area had been heavily logged and laced with more than 260 miles of road used by those logging operations.

Both phases have included work to decommission many of those old logging roads that are now overgrown and producing sediment. Montana Department of Environmental Quality has listed two streams in the project area, Rye Creek and North Fork Rye Creek, as water quality impaired.


Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.