Flathead Forest Seeks Input on Proposed Riverside Timber Sale

Located along the east side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, the project includes 4,600 acres of commercial timber harvest and 4,000 acres of noncommercial treatment

By Tristan Scott
Hungry Horse Reservoir, seen from the air during an EcoFlight tour. Beacon file photo

Flathead National Forest officials are seeking public comment on a proposed timber project along the east side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir that would include commercial logging operations on 4,600 acres of parcels spanning the Hungry Horse and Spotted Bear ranger districts.

The logging proposal, which includes an additional 4,000 acres of noncommercial treatments such as forest thinning, prescribed burns and whitebark pine restoration, would occur on a swath of public land running from just north of the Riverside boat launch to just south of Peters Creek Campground.

“We are excited to work across boundaries of the Hungry Horse and Spotted Bear Districts and improve stand diversity and resilience,” Spotted Bear District Ranger Scott Snelson said in a prepared statement supporting the project.

Hungry Horse District Ranger Rob Davies noted the “economic benefits from the proposed timber harvest,” but said the noncommercial operations are also critical for forest management on lands immediately adjacent to the Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness areas, where the legacy effects of wildland fire suppression clash with the region’s wilderness values.

“We are also excited about opportunities in this area to pursue noncommercial treatments including thinning, prescribed burning and whitebark pine restoration,” Davies said in a statement. “Almost 50% of the treatments are noncommercial and important to pursue on a landscape that has seen decades of fire suppression.”

Dubbed the “Dry Riverside Project,” forest officials say the timber sale was crafted “to improve the diversity and resilience of vegetative communities, remove and reduce fuels to promote a fire resilient forest and limit impacts to natural resources, and provide forest products to local economy.”

The project also proposes to add approximately 33 miles of road to the National Forest System; of these 33 miles, approximately 32 miles would be utilizing existing templates, and one mile would be new construction. Public motorized access would not change.

According to Snelson and Davies, the agency’s desire for so-called “resilient” forest management follows decades of disturbances such as insects, disease and fire. To achieve this desire, the district rangers will aim to harvest “a diversity of tree species and tree sizes.”

“For this project, the proposed work would favor retention of fire-tolerant species such as western white pine, western larch, ponderosa pine, and douglas-fir,” according to project documents available on the Flathead National Forest’s website. The public can find maps, other project information and instructions for how to provide comment on the project here. 

The proposal includes more than 700 acres of whitebark pine planting and 1,400 acres of burning specifically aimed at whitebark pine restoration. Whitebark pine is an ecologically important species in high-altitude areas of the West due to the habitat and food source it provides for Clark’s nutcrackers, grizzly bears, elk, and other animals. Although Whitebark pine is a declining species, it is fire adapted, meaning it benefits from burning to remove competing tree species.

Forest officials will accept comments through Dec. 23, 2022. Agency officials will then refine the proposed activities and conduct the environmental analysis for the project.

For additional questions, members of the public should contact project leader Gary Blazejewski at [email protected] or (406) 387-3827.