Swan Mountain Integrated Resource Management Plan aims to improve ecosystem health and visitor experience
The US Forest Service is in the process of seeking public input on its Integrated Resource Management Plan for Swan Mountain, which will include a variety of projects aimed at improving ecosystem health and the visitor experience.
Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi said the Forest Service always strives to manage forests in a way that serves multiple uses, and the Swan Mountain Project presents a great opportunity to do so.
The project is planned for 12,300 acres of land in the Swan Mountain area south of the Dillon Reservoir, including portions of the Swan River and Soda Creek watersheds. The proposed work includes a mix of fuel reductions, trail improvements, and improvements to wildlife habitat, stream hydrology and transportation.
“This district is important because it encompasses many different resources into one,” Bianchi said. “This is an opportunity for us to do a lot of great work in one project. … We take a look at the landscape and take a holistic look at what the soil and land need, and how best to meet the needs of the community.
The project is in a 60-day public comment period, which ends on December 13. People can comment on the project on FS.USDA.gov/project/?project=60771. Bianchi said the comments will help refine the project further before it moves on to the environmental scan, which examines the effects associated with the plan.
“We’re really looking for feedback that would give us new ideas and maybe something we should do differently or something that we’re missing,” Bianchi said. “… We are early enough in the game that we can continue to modify the proposal to better respond to what the public thinks we need to do from a management perspective.”
The Forest Service also organized a public excursion in late October to show the project site to interested parties, and Bianchi said the agency hopes to organize similar events in the future. He said about 25 people came to the historic Soda Creek ranch site to see where some trail realignments, stream restoration and burning could take place.
“I think people have a good understanding of what we’re trying to deliver,” Bianchi said. “For the most part, I think people were very supportive of what we’re trying to accomplish and can see on the ground why we are focusing on this area versus others. “
Ryan Hughes, prescribed burn and fuels specialist for the Eastern White River National Forest, said public feedback on any Forest Service project is valuable and that this project will provide enormous benefit to the Summit community. .
“This collaboration between the public, the forest service, our external partners – our municipal fire departments, the county… – really plays a vital role in the success of these projects and the best they can be,” said Hughes.
Hughes noted that the Swan Mountain project is very focused on removing deadwood.
“The underlying idea is obviously to remove some of the dead, fluffy material from the lodgepole pine beetle outbreak that we still have there,” Hughes said. “We took on this challenge as best we could, and I think we did a really good job. We saw a lot of value in a lot of these treatments when we had large scale fires in Summit County. “
Hughes said compartmentalizing landscapes with these treatments gives fire managers a safer opportunity to start fires in grasslands and sagebrush areas without dead lodgepole pine stands, which pose a significant safety hazard. He said the work was aimed at preventing a blaze from moving to populated areas.
Hughes said the trails can serve as a line of fire, so the project will also clear vegetation around the Continental Divide Trail, among other things.
Hughes noted that an important aspect of the plan is the prescribed burn, which he believes may cause public concern. He said he hopes people can look beyond their initial concerns and have confidence that the Forest Service will have trained professionals on site.
“When you see smoke and flames in your yard, it can obviously make people’s hair on the back of their necks stand on end and can cause concern,” Hughes said. “But really, when we talk about our ability to deal with large swaths of land, prescribed burn does a lot of things for the landscape. … This is a natural thing that has happened in the past that improves forest health.