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Tree harvesting project near Swan Lake aims to curb disease, insects

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | August 5, 2021 1:14 PM

Flathead National Forest officials are seeking public input on a plan to harvest trees near Swan Lake that are infected with harmful diseases and insects.

The proposed Schmidt Creek Project spans 152 acres northeast of the lake in the Swan Lake Ranger District where Douglas fir beetles, dwarf mistletoe and armillaria root disease all have been detected.

The landscape hasn't burned for decades, which has allowed more shade-tolerant species of trees to grow, increasing competition for space, water, nutrients and sunlight, which amplifies the risk of insect and disease infestations, according to U.S. Forest Service project documents.

Severe windstorms since 2019 also have caused "extensive tree damage in areas including Bear Creek near Bigfork, the east shore of Flathead Lake, Krause Basin and Schmidt Creek, the documents state. Officials estimate the wind events blew down up to 100 tons of trees per acre across roughly 1,000 acres, including the Schmidt Creek Project area.

Officials are proposing the infected trees be commercially harvested using clearcut, seed-tree and shelterwood treatments. None of those methods would exceed 80 acres in the project area.

Blown-down and heavily damaged standing trees would be salvaged to reduce fuel loads to the desired concentration of 8 to 12 tons per acre.

"Removing the insect and disease and blown-down trees would create thinned stands which further reduce infestation spread to adjacent private and forested lands," one document states.

Nearly 2 miles of temporary road would be built to complete the project; those roads later would be reclaimed.

Because of the environmental hazards posed by the bugs and tree diseases, the Forest Service is treating the project as a "categorical exclusion," a streamlined process that does not involve a second public comment period or an objection period.

If approved, the project is slated to begin this fall.

A virtual public meeting is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Those interested in participating must RSVP to michele.mavor@usda.gov.

Comments on the project are due by Aug. 16. Comments may be sent to comments-northern-flathead-swan-lake@usda.gov with the subject line "Schmidt Creek." Comments also may be mailed or hand-delivered to the Swan Lake Ranger District at 200 Ranger Station Road in Bigfork.

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.