Frozen Moose more than just logging, Forest Service says

by Teresa Byrd
Staff Writer | February 19, 2020 11:15 AM

The Forest Service aims to accomplish much more than homeowner protection from wildfires through the Frozen Moose Project. That was the message presented by Glacier View/Hungry Horse District Ranger Rob Davies at the North Fork Interlocal meeting held last week in Kalispell.

The proposal, an 8,000-acre fuels reduction project entailing non-commercial thinning, commercial timber sales, and prescribed burning on Forest Service land in the North Fork of the Flathead hopes to fulfill many other objectives, Davies told the crowd.

During thinning and logging operations, the agency hopes to push the forest composition towards more fire-resilient species, favoring tree species like larch and Douglas fir, which are more disease and insect resistant, drought tolerant, and with their thick bark, more fire-resilient.

Three creeks within the project area are listed as critical habitat for the threatened species bull trout and the project plans an overhaul on culverts and pipes to ensure clear fish passage and to withstand 100 year flood-plain flows to prevent road sediment from washing into streams, he said.

The project also provides opportunities to restore and maintain whitebark pine and sagebrush habitat.

In a particularly robust stand of whitebark pine within the recommended Tuchuck wilderness area, the agency hopes to turn its non-commercial thinning practices towards reducing competition for the species in a process called daylighting, said Davies in an interview after the talk. Daylighting consists of cutting down, or if large enough, girdling, non-whitebark tree species that are encroaching on the stands. One of the prescribed burn areas within the project, which is at the right elevation for the alpine tree, would provide optimal habitat for replanting seedlings of the threatened species, which is adapted to regenerating in burns.

The agency plans on using thinning techniques to maintain sagebrush habitat occurring on flat riverbed terraces within the project area. These naturally occurring pockets of mountain big sagebrush are fairly unique environments in wetter northwest Montana, Davies said. In the absence of frequent, low intensity fire regimes, these sagebrush meadows are seeing encroachment from conifer species, which the agency plans on cutting down.

Some of the work being done will occur in core grizzly habitat. In order to minimize disturbance, work will be limited to one of the three main areas in the core habitat at a time. The agency will close one of its administrative roads to maintain the same net area of land as required refuge for the bears.

The Frozen Moose Project received nearly 60 public comments during the 30-day official comment period following the release of the project’s proposed action in mid-December. While the official comment period gave the public the right to document concerns in a way that lends them legal standing, “we are [unofficially] taking comments throughout the whole process,” said Davies, “so we continue to be engaged.”

The next formal 30-day comment period will occur after the environmental assessment for the project is released to the public, expected sometime in May. The Forest plans to host public meetings and site field trips to facilitate public discourse during that 30-day window.

A draft decision for the project will be released in September, followed by a public objection period. Officially, only commenters who have documented concerns within one of the two previous comment periods will have eligible “status” to formally submit objections at that time, said Davies after the meeting. However, Davies and other Forest Service officials hope the public remains engaged, providing comments throughout the process whether formally or not.

A final decision is expected by December of this year. Earliest implementation of the plan would begin the summer of 2021, but more likely wouldn’t be until 2022, Davies said.

For more information on the project visit www.fs.usda.gov/projects/flathead/landmanagement/projects or call the Glacier View/Hungry Horse District office at 406-387-3800.