By Michael Howell
The decision by Bitterroot National Forest officials to harvest roughly half the trees on 806 acres in the Larry Creek and Bass Creek area has been appealed. According to Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter, the aim of reducing the number of trees in the area was to produce a more resilient stand that can better withstand the pine beetle infestation that currently surrounds the popular camping, hiking and hunting area.
Ritter said that by opening up the stand, it allows more sunlight in and exposes more of the tree to that sunlight as well as reducing competition for water from encroaching trees. All this makes for a healthier more vibrant tree that can better ward off a beetle attack. He said a secondary benefit to the project was fuel reduction in the area.
Existing trails will be used to remove the timber. Afterward the trails will be re-worked and a few miles added to the trail system. Spraying for weeds along the trails and the log landings is also planned.
Ritter said that a previous demonstration project was done in the nearby Charles Waters Campground, giving people the chance to see what the result of the planned treatment in the Larry-Bass Project would look like.
The appeal of the July 23, 2012 decision of Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Julie King to move forward with the project was filed by Dick Artley of Grangeville, Idaho. Artley makes two points in his appeal.
He claims that the proposed construction of 1.7 miles of road and 21 helicopter landing sites should trigger the requirement to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the EPA for discharge of point source pollutants. He argues that the roadway and the landing sites are point sources of pollution and quotes EPA requirements:
“Stormwater runoff from construction activities can have a significant impact on water quality. As stormwater flows over a construction site, it can pick up pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals and transport these to a nearby storm sewer system or directly to a river, lake, or coastal water. Polluted stormwater runoff can harm or kill fish and other wildlife. Sedimentation can destroy aquatic habitat, and high volumes of runoff can cause stream bank erosion. Debris can clog waterways and potentially reach the ocean where it can kill marine wildlife and impact habitat.
“The NPDES stormwater program requires construction site operators engaged in clearing, grading, and excavating activities that disturb 1 acre or more, including smaller sites in a larger common plan of development or sale, to obtain coverage under an NPDES permit for their stormwater discharges.”
Artley claims that, because there is no evidence that the Forest Service obtained the NPDES permit, the agency is in violation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. At the least, he claims, the agency should have notified the public that it was determined that no permit was required.
Artley’s second appeal point was that the agency’s Environmental Analysis did not analyze the timber sale’s effects to the natural resource biodiversity in and downstream from the sale area. He claims the agency is required by law to plan its projects in such a way that they “maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity.” He claims the agency failed to analyze the potential impact of the sale on diversity of the forest and points to a 1993 publication of the Council on Environmental Quality called “Incorporating Biodiversity Considerations Into Environmental Impact Analysis Under the National Environmental Policy Act.”
Artley quotes the publication, saying, “It is critical that federal agencies understand and take into account general principles of biodiversity conservation in their decision making.”
He requests that the decision be withdrawn.
Ritter said that the Regional Office had 45 days to resolve the issue by either affirming the decision or remanding it back to the forest for further consideration. He said that if the Regional Office affirmed the decision the project could get underway by the end of October. He said winter would be a good time to get the job done while use of the highly popular area is at a minimum.