Major forest project planned for Swan Valley

Public input sought on forest project in Swan Valley

KALISPELL — A forest project in Montana's Swan River valley looks to harvest 174,000 acres near Condon.

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The Flathead National Forest will seek public input on a draft Environmental Impact Statement for a 174,000 acre landscape level project to restore forest conditions and reduce fuels in Swan Valley, south of Kalispell.
The purpose of the Mid-Swan Landscape Restoration and Wildland Urban Interface Project (Mid-Swan Project) is two-fold: to restore and maintain key habitat for plant and animal species in light of a changing climate, and to reduce the risk of extreme wildfire adjacent to local communities. 
 
“The project is anchored in the ecology of the area,” Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele said. “The rural residents of the valley and the communities of Swan Lake and Condon will benefit from the proposed active management in the area to reduce the risk of large-scale fires and to create a more diverse, resilient landscape.”

THE PLAN

The project proposes a variety of forest management activities including fuel reduction, young stand thinning, commercial tree harvest, tree planting, and direct seeding. It also includes road management proposals like building, rerouting, and removing different route segments. Fish barriers would be addressed by removing or upgrading some culverts, and beaver habitat would be improved.
 
The Mid-Swan project lies in the heart of Swan Valley. The rural community of Condon, MT is just south of the project area. It is home to several native threatened and endangered species including grizzly bear, Canada lynx, wolverine, water howellia, cutthroat trout, and bull trout. It also has wetlands, dense western red cedar groves, open ponderosa pine and western larch stands, and subalpine forests with whitebark pine.
 
The region has seen more than a century of fire suppression, according to spokesperson Lauren Alley. Early timber management practices across multiple land ownerships often selectively cut the largest or most valuable trees and left behind forest roads in various conditions, Alley said. The landscape is at risk of losing key habitat for native fish and wildlife species and the natural processes that support them, according to the forest service, and current forest conditions pose a wildfire risk to residents, forest users, public and private infrastructure, and firefighters.
 
In 2010, a new federal government initiative called the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program competitively selected the Southwestern Crown Collaborative as one of the first ten projects in the nation to undertake science-based forest restoration in the Mid-Swan. The Mid-Swan Project is the first planning effort in the Southwestern Crown Collaborative to look at such a large area and determine management needs across multiple watersheds.
 
The public first had an opportunity to provide comments on the project in 2018. The Forest Service has considered these comments, made updates to the project based on these comments, as well as created an analysis of the effects of the proposals, and is now asking the public for additional input.
 
The public can find more information about the project beginning tomorrow, including the draft environmental impact statement and instructions about how to comment on the project website page.

For instructions about how to sign up for and join the two virtual open houses scheduled for September 2 and September 23 at 6 pm please visit the Mid-Swan Virtual Meetings webpage.


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