By Michael Howell
Acting Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest Dan Ritter gave the Ravalli County Commissioners an update on the agencies activities designed to reduce the fire hazard in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) along the Forest Service boundaries.
Ritter said that due to the prevailing winds being almost always from the west, the Forest Service had given priority to pursuing fire hazard reduction on the west side of the valley and was making good progress as more and more private landowners along the WUI agree to cooperate and provide access to the forest for thinning projects.
In 2004, the Forest Service gained the cooperation of private landowners in the Hayes Creek area and was able to treat close to 700 acres. Another 2,500 acres in the Trapper/Bunkhouse area was thinned along the WUI in 2010 and in 2012 another 1,100 acres was thinned. One hundred and thirty-five acres was recently thinned in the Smith Creek area and 157 acres was thinned in the area of Sweeney Creek stretching between state owned land and the Bass Creek campground area, both of which have also been treated. He said the agency is currently moving up the west side from Roaring Lion to Camas Creek, hoping to treat a total of 1,500 acres in that area. Plans are also in the works with an Environmental Impact Statement currently being conducted to treat 1,800 acres between Lost Horse Creek and Lake Como. Six hundred and fifty acres is also planned to be thinned in Frazier Draw.
Ritter said that the Three Saddle timber sale and the Haacke-Claremont sale on the east side would also involved thousands of acres of fire reduction work on the east side of the valley.
Asked about the problems of access for maintenance of the wilderness dams on the forest, Ritter said that the agency had been pretty successful in working with private dam owners and their dam maintenance needs. He said there was currently only one dam out of 19 dams on the forest that was in need of repair and it was owned by the Forest Service. He said where access has been protested the Forest Service has generally prevailed in court in its efforts to provide reasonable access for maintenance and repairs.