Clearwater Basin Collaborative Lauds State Decision
Orogrande Community Protection Project will have positive outcomes for people and the forest
February 17, 2017: A decision by the State of Idaho to intervene on behalf of the Forest Service in a lawsuit challenging the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest’s Orogrande Community Protection Project is being hailed as a very positive development by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative.
The Clearwater Basin Collaborative, or CBC, is a diverse group of individuals who work collaboratively to enhance and protect the ecological and economic health of the forests, rivers and communities within the Clearwater Basin by working across a diversity of interests. The group provided information and feedback throughout the development of the Orogrande project.
“The Orogrande Community Protection Project decision is definitely a collaborative product that thoughtfully responded to ideas and concerns expressed by the CBC as well as individuals, agencies and organizations who participated in the process,” CBC co-chairs Alex Irby and Dale Harris stated. “We commend Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert for her effort to find the right type and mix of fuel reduction treatments to create a fire break around the small community of Orogrande and its access routes.”
The Forest Service initiated the Orogrande Community Protection Project in response to Idaho County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan which designates Orogrande, a small community located approximately 15 miles south of Elk City, “a community at risk from wildfire.” The rural area is heavily forested and experiences frequent lightning-caused fires. Residents were subject to evacuation orders during the fire seasons of 2012 and 2015.
Due to threats posed by recent fires, many residents have taken actions reduce fuels on their property and create defensible space around buildings. They strongly urged the Forest Service to do likewise, and worked with the agency throughout the development of the project.
After collaboration with interested parties and completion of a detailed analysis, Forest Supervisor Probert issued a decision to implement a variety of fuel reduction treatments in February 2016. That decision was challenged in court by Friends of the Clearwater in December 2016.
Probert’s decision included treatment of nearly 3,500 acres with harvest, thinning, hand pruning, and prescribed fire to reduce fuels and improve forest health. Of those acres identified for treatment, more than 70% will be treated with prescribed fire only.
Only 300 acres (less than ten percent of the area) are identified for treatment with selective timber harvest, with roughly two hundred of those acres located within the 9500-acre West Fork Crooked River Roadless Area located immediately adjacent to and southwest of the community of Orogrande.
Probert also determined approximately four miles of temporary road (revised per December 16, 2016, Supplemental Information Report) are necessary to implement fuel reduction activities associated with the project; two miles of which are within the Roadless Area. Most temporary road will be reconstructed over existing road and trail templates, and all temporary roads will be obliterated immediately following completion of the project.
The West Fork Crooked River Roadless Area is managed as a “backcountry/restoration” area in accordance with the Idaho Roadless Rule of 2009. That rule specifically permits the removal of timber to reduce hazardous fuels within community protection zones if large trees are generally retained.
“The Orogrande Community Protection Project is a perfect example of how the Idaho Roadless Rule specifically integrates local management concerns–in this case fire protection around the community of Orogrande–with the national objective for protecting roadless area values and characteristics,” Irby and Harris explained.
Prior to Supervisor Probert’s decision in February 2016, the project was evaluated by the Idaho Roadless Commission, who discussed the proposal multiple times and even visited the site. They determined the project was consistent with the direction and spirit of the Idaho Roadless Rule.
Irby and Harris, both members of the Idaho Roadless Commission, said they are very confident the project meets the intent of the rule, and that the project will meet fuels reduction objectives without degrading the roadless character of the West Fork Crooked River Roadless Area.
“It is our belief the management actions approved by Probert create a much-needed fuel break for the community and access road while addressing environmental concerns expressed by those who worked with the Forest as the project was developed,” Irby and Harris concluded. “We are very pleased the Forest’s good work is being defended by the State of Idaho.”