Group proposes restoration plan

A hodgepodge of local residents are joining forces with the U.S. Forest Service to actively manage 13,000 acres of public land across the Marshall Creek, Woods Gulch and Lower Rattlesnake Creek drainages.

The proposal, dubbed the Marshall Woods Restoration Project, is the product of a bottom-up, consensus driven effort, says Jake Kreilick of the Lolo National Forest Restoration Committee (LRC), an advisory group comprised of mostly volunteer stakeholders representing diverse interests. The project aims to advance restoration efforts in the Lolo National Forest by drawing upon ecologically appropriate and scientifically sound principles.

"We do feel like this is somewhat of a novel project," Kreilick says.

LRC was chomping at the bit to work on a "from scratch" project. With the Forest Service's help, the advisory body identified these 13,000 acres northeast of Missoula as a prime candidate for such efforts. After hashing out priorities, stakeholders last week rolled out a draft action plan that identifies restoration goals.

Those goals include converting old roads to better incorporate non-motorized transportation, managing weeds in high-use recreation corridors, and thinning heavily wooded areas to ward off wildfire.

"I think we're going to see a lot of public support," Kreilick says.

Despite the prediction, Kreilick acknowledges the proposal to thin trees along the main Rattlesnake Trail and in the Poe Meadows area could garner significant scrutiny. The treatments are recommended to clear dead, dying and densely packed pine and fir, thereby enhancing forest health, says the Forest Service's Tami Paulsen.

Harvesting trees would require widening the road at Spring Creek Bridge along the Rattlesnake's main trail to accommodate approximately 90 vehicle trips necessary to haul out felled trees, Paulsen says. That's the only portion of the road that would be widened under the proposal.

"We want to leave the road the way that we found it." Paulsen says. "We don't want to change the character."

The Forest Service is asking the public to comment on the plan, available on the Lolo National Forest website, by Sept. 23. That input will be used to develop alternatives to the existing proposal. From there, the Forest Service will conduct an environmental assessment, again inviting public comment. The project is slated to get rolling in 2012.

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