The deadline for objecting to the Draft Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Gold Butterfly Project on the Bitterroot National Forest closed on August 2.
The Gold Butterfly Project area encompasses 55,147 acres on the eastside of the Bitterroot National Forest. The project area is primarily on lands administered by the Bitterroot National Forest on the Stevensville Ranger District. The southern end of the project, in the St. Clair Creek drainage, is on the Darby Ranger District but is accessed through the Willow Creek road system on the Stevensville Ranger District, and thus the project is being administered by the latter.
It includes 5,621 acres of commercial timber harvest and 1,755 acres of non-commercial vegetation treatments. The selected alternative was modified to retain old growth status in all treatment units. Approximately 9,500 acres of the project have been designated an insect and disease treatment area due to dense pockets of dead and dying trees. The area is impacted by mountain pine beetle, Douglas-fir bark beetle, dwarf mistletoe and western spruce budworm damage.
The Bitterroot Community Wildfire Protection Plan also identified the area as a ‘high priority’ for fuels reduction in the Wildland Urban Interface.
According to BNF Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay, the Forest received 17 objections. The objections have been forwarded to the Deputy Regional Forester who will review the them.
Ravalli County is one of the 17 objectors, having filed a letter of objection on August 2. The county’s objections primarily focus on the impacts to county maintained roads from heavy equipment and logging trucks, mostly, but not limited to the impacts to Willow Creek Road.
“Due to resource and financial limitations, Ravalli County would not be able to accommodate the necessary maintenance during the project, nor the rehabilitation of the road after the project is complete. Ravalli County objects to shifting the financial burden of the Gold
Butterfly Project to Ravalli County and believe it is contrary to current law and existing agreements,” wrote the commissioners, referring to the Forest Development Road Cooperative agreement of 1965. The current agreement only has the FS responsible for 1.2 miles of the road. The commissioners want the entire road from the Eastside Highway to the Forest boundary to be included in the agreement.
The commissioners also want some sort of chemical dust control rather than just water.
If they don’t get their way, they say, “We will be forced to invoke our authority under [the law] to our discretion limit or forbid certain classes of traffic on Willow Creek Road.”
The only objection the commissioners had to the timber harvesting proposed was that there should be more of it to help reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfire in the project area.
“It’s quite likely that a meeting will be arranged between the objectors and the Deputy Regional Forester to try and work out any possible reconciliations,” said McKay. He said if it looks to the Deputy Regional Forester after reviewing and discussing the objections that some are valid and might require reconsideration or changes, he will write a letter to the Bitterroot National Forest with recommendations for changes or for further study, perhaps. Those are all options and it can all happen within the next few weeks. He said that it will take some time because some of the objections to be considered are over 100 pages long and every objection gets a response.