Initial approval was granted for a large forest restoration project near Grangeville that would produce an estimated 144 million board feet of timber while reducing the threat of wildfire, insects and disease.

With the green light from Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert, the End of the World Project now undergoes a mandated objection period, during which people and organizations who previously commented on the proposed work can raise red flags.

Probert can give a final go-ahead to the work after any objections have been resolved. If she does, the project, which would see thinning, logging and prescribed burning on about 70 percent of the forest within a roughly 50,000 acre area, would largely be carried out via a series of seven or eight timber sales expected to take more than a decade to implement.

The project is named after an old fire lookout site on the forest south of Grangeville that has become a local hangout. According to an environmental analysis conducted by forest officials, the forests in the area are overstocked and susceptible to insects, disease and fire.

“It ends up being a very large thinning project,” said project leader Zoanne Anderson. “It really is to reduce insects and disease and to reduce the risk of wildfire and help restore some of the forest vegetation.”

Anderson said the plan was shaped in part by comments the agency received after it announced broad intentions to implement the project last year. Those comments, some of which raised concerns about the threat of sediments and erosion leaching into streams and eventually into the South Fork of the Clearwater and Salmon rivers, led to reshaping of some timber harvest units. The project area sits on a divide between the two rivers and includes the popular Cove and Grangeville-Salmon roads.

The area does not overlap any designated roadless areas and is not adjacent to any congressionally designated wilderness areas. Anderson said most of the area has seen previous timber harvest, dating back to the 1950s. About 28 miles of old roads would be decommissioned, and 16 miles of temporary roads would be constructed to facilitate the work.

The area was identified by former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter as a “priority landscape restoration area” under the latest iteration of the farm bill. Among other things, the law allows the agency to expedite environmental analysis and public involvement processes while developing projects in such areas. It is also near private property and rural residences, known as the wildland urban interface, where fire can threaten homes and other structures.

Anderson said some of the work, such as cutting timber and making fuel breaks along roads would give firefighters better and safer access to fight fires and also strategic points at which they could “stand and hold a fire.”

Most of the timber harvest, about 90 percent, will be through thinning. In areas where thinning is emphasized, Anderson said species such as grand fir would be logged and species like western larch and ponderosa pine that are more resistant to fire and insects and disease would be retained.

Despite the emphasis on thinning, the project will include some regeneration harvest where most, but not all, of the trees are removed.

Bill Higgins of the Idaho Forest Group and co-chairman of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, said he is happy with the proposed work and the effort agency officials put into.

“It looks like a pretty thorough approach, a landscape approach to that area for the forest health,” he said. “I’m pleased to see them taking that thorough approach.”

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative, a citizens group comprised of various interests that advises officials on the forest, commented on the work. Higgins said while the group hasn’t officially voted to approve the project, none of its members has raised objections.

The work is certain to face opposition from some environmental organizations. Gary Macfarlane, of the Friends of the Clearwater at Moscow, said he is planning to file a formal objection and fears the work will damage wildlife habitat, especially for those that depend on older forests, and impair water quality. Macfarlane said the size of the project alone is bound to negatively affect fish and wildlife.

“Even if you call them temporary, the more roads you build and the more acreage you log, the more you are going to have an effect on fish habitat and wildlife — a negative effect on those things. That is what concerns us.”

He also said the agency should have given the public more of a chance to comment on the work and written a full environmental impact statement.

“For a logging project that is going to last that long, why do they have to rush the citizen involvement process?” he said.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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