Dec 13, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterShoshone National Forest Washakie District ranger Steve Schacht says the Forest Service is planning a fuel reduction and habitat improvement project along the Loop Road, Schacht reported.
The Forest Service plans to publish an environmental assessment of the project in about a month, and will then take public comments on the proposal. Schacht expects there to be a final decision on the plan next spring.
The project area covers 8,000 acres from Sinks Canyon to South Pass along the Loop Road. Forest Service workers would use controlled burns and cut trees to create a fire protection zone around the popular route through the forest.
About 500 acres of the project would be available for commercial logging. Speaking to Fremont County Commissioners, Schacht said those areas have trees the right size for commercial use.
One component will be to remove conifers in areas with aspen clones. Controlled burns would stimulate aspen growth, and aspen stands slow wild fires, Schacht said.
The plan also calls for general fuel reduction. Schacht gave an example: "Removing ladder fuels like small trees so fire doesn't get into the crown - keep fire on the ground."
Schacht said work would likely start in 2014 or 2015, but that all depends on weather and fuel conditions.
"I just want to make sure that the local companies get a chance to bid on that work," commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said. "Sometimes they're not on the right list."
Schacht said the Forest Service would inform local companies.
"Local contractors are the only bidder we're getting on timber sales," he added.
Large logging companies are not interested in the Shoshone's timber because they have to truck it a long way to a mill, Schacht said.
"Sometimes we have to carve those areas into smaller bid areas for local guys, into 25 or 50 acres," he said later.
'Pretty poor shape'
Range conditions are also bad because of the drought, Schacht said. Many ranchers graze their livestock on allotments in the national forest. Wild game also forages in the forest.
"This year's growth was about 25 percent of normal, even those allotments that weren't grazed are in pretty poor shape," he said at the meeting. "We're probably looking at putting a letter out asking for voluntary reduction or disuse unless we get a lot of moisture this spring."
Hickerson asked Schacht to wait on making that decision until late in the spring because moisture can come suddenly and late.
"If we get a nice, late spring storm, I'd like to let people use that grass," he said.
The Forest Service is sharing in the cost of the drought.
Schacht also said that the Red Canyon Nature Conservancy decided the Forest Service could no longer graze its horses in the Red Canyon area because of the drought.
The Forest Service closed the Loop Road at Worthen Meadows earlier this month, but Schacht said the switchbacks will stay open for now. Snow predicted for this week, however, might cause him to close the road lower down early this week.
"I left it open up to Worthen because that's where most of the Christmas trees and firewood collectors go," he said. "In past years we had a lot of vehicles stuck up there, it took a lot of effort to get them down."
He said the Forest Service has been selling many Christmas tree and firewood permits.
"I ask that you coordinate with (Fremont County Transportation Superintendent) Dave Pendleton when you decide to close," commission chairman Doug Thompson said.
Later, Hickerson asked if Schacht had heard that the forest supervisor might ease limits on collecting firewood because Hickerson had previously inquired about it.
"My purpose is, there's so many dead trees up there, it seems kind of ludicrous to tell people you can only get 10 cords of firewood when we have thousands of acres of dead trees."
Nothing specific has been discussed, Schacht said. He added that 10 cords is about as much as a person needs in a year, and allowing people to collect more than that could lead to some people to start selling firewood without a commercial permit.
Noting the danger dead wood presents if there is a wildfire, Hickerson said, "If someone is going to sell a couple cords, we should over look that for the higher purpose."
The Forest Service also plans to replace two bridges leading to Dickinson Park in August. Schacht said the road would be closed briefly.
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