Montana scales back Palisades timber sale

2013-07-11T00:00:00Z 2013-07-12T20:58:26Z Montana scales back Palisades timber saleBy BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

After closer scrutiny and comments from the public, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has reduced the size of its proposed Palisades timber sale northwest of Red Lodge by almost 1 million board feet, an estimated loss of $133,000.

The draft environmental assessment for the project has been released. Public comment on the logging plan will be accepted until Aug. 7.

The plan has drawn a lot of interest from landowners and the public because of its proximity to Red Lodge and a proposed logging project on adjacent Custer National Forest land.

The DNRC project would take place on about 780 acres of state land along the Beartooth Face. The agency is proposing the removal of about 6 million board feet of timber, mostly lodgepole pine. To log the acreage, about 9 miles of new road would be built. After the logging is done, 7 miles of new and old roadways will be reclaimed and no motorized public access to the site will be allowed. Roads will only be open for administrative use.

According to the EA, “there would be a low level of adverse cumulative affects to moose, elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer associated with this project.”

The area was burned in a fire in the 1890s. Consequently, many of the trees on the foothills landscape are 85 to 110 years old. Some mountain pine beetle infestation has occurred, but for the most part the stands are healthy, one of the reasons the state is proposing to log the acreage before infestation spreads.

State school trust lands, which show up blue on most maps, are legally required to return money to the state. The money raised helps fund the state’s school system.

DNRC Southern Lands Office manager Matt Wolcott said the reduction in the size of the timber harvest was related to several factors, including: feathering the edges of the cut to make them more natural looking; adding movement cover for wildlife; keeping trees around creek drainages; preserving landowners’ viewsheds; the excessive cost of building roads to some of the stands of trees; and concerns voiced by hunters that an eastern area be preserved because of its ease of access.

“Initially when we laid out the project, we said this is the maximum,” Wolcott said. “Once we looked at the practicality, cost of roads and access and landowners’ concerns, we tried to mitigate the impact.

“So by the time we took all of those things into consideration, the size came down significantly,” he added. “We want to do a good project that makes sense.”

Following the public comment period, and depending on what issues are raised, the project could go to the State Land Board in September for approval. If the land board gives the OK, some of the new roads could be built in the fall and logging could begin by next summer.

The entire project could take about three years to complete, Wolcott said.

“Some people wanted us to do small sales spread out over 10 years, but we’d rather get in there, get it done and get out of there and let it return to its natural state,” he said.

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