Cathedral Cliffs

The majority of logging proposed along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway would extend from just east of the Cathedral Cliffs, shown here, east to Antelope Mountain.

BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff

The Shoshone National Forest plans to suspend its own rules along the Chief Joseph Highway Scenic Byway to execute a logging plan meant to remove dead and dying trees infected by the western spruce budworm.

The logging is proposed 30 miles northwest of Cody, Wyoming, along a popular mountain route that accesses the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. In a draft environmental assessment released last week, forest officials propose suspending their own scenic objectives along about nine miles of the route, or about 2,000 acres along the road’s corridor. Suspending the rules requires an amendment to the forest plan. Comments are being taken on the EA through Dec. 14.

The project is being touted on several levels, but primarily as a way to lessen wildland fire danger in an area popular with second-home owners near the small community of Crandall, Wyoming. Cabins have sprouted close to the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River in an area surrounded by the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains.

The logging would include harvest on 139 acres of the 31,000-acre Windy Mountain Inventoried Roadless Area, which is proposed because most of that timber is within a mile of homes and outbuildings, known as the wildland urban interface, or WUI.

Wildland fires are an annual threat to the mountain community, the largest of which was the 1988 Clover Mist fire. The addition of the bug-killed trees have increased the potential for “higher intensity” fires, forest officials claim in the EA.

“Over the last decade, the (Shoshone National Forest) has experienced dramatic, large-scale insect and disease events,” the EA stated. “Not only has this created extreme wildfire risk to the SNF and adjacent private lands and homes, it has greatly increased the risk to firefighters who respond to fires in areas full of dead trees, which threaten their safety.”

It would be cheaper, and more economically beneficial, forest officials claimed, to log the area than to pay to fight a fire there.

The proposed project area is at an elevation of 6,000 feet and higher. The forest is composed mainly of lodgepole pine, Englemann spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas fir and aspen.

Because of its wild location, project officials have to take into consideration the logging’s effect on Yellowstone cutthroat trout, elk, deer, moose, lynx, wolverines and grizzly bears, among other species. The agency’s analysis concludes that the effects on trout habitat with the removal of trees and road construction would be minimal compared to a forest fire. Elk, moose and deer may benefit from the removal of larger trees to promote edible understory growth, the EA suggested, although there would be a loss of trees providing shade and protection from storms. Grizzly bears would be affected only during the logging, which will be spread over four years and contained to a small part of their habitat, the EA stated. The logging would take place outside of critical lynx and wolverine habitat.

To comment on the EA, email comments-rocky-mountain-shoshone@fs.fed.us or write to: Clarks Fork Ranger District, 203A Yellowstone Ave., Cody, WY, 82414

If approved, the soonest the project could move forward is this spring, according to forest spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann. That’s the earliest that requests for bids could be advertised. No on-the-ground work would likely begin before next fall, she added.

This is the fourth year of a spruce budworm infestation in the area. The moth’s larvae feed on the foliage of Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and subalpine fir trees causing defoliation, according to the EA, giving trees a reddish brown appearance from needle damage. Without foliage, trees cannot photosynthesize nutrients. Repeated severe defoliation (four to five years) can decrease growth, kill the trees, and leave them more susceptible to other insects or disease, such as bark beetles.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.