Swan Mountain integrated resource management plan aims to improve ecosystem health and visitor experience | SummitDaily.com

Swan Mountain integrated resource management plan aims to improve ecosystem health and visitor experience

Public comment period ends Dec. 13

A map outlines the U.S. Forest Service's plan for work on Swan Mountain.
U.S. Forest Service/Courtesy map

The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of seeking public input on its Swan Mountain integrated resource management plan, which will include a variety of projects aiming to improve ecosystem health and the visitor experience.

Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi said the Forest Service is always working to manage forests in a way that serves multiple uses, and the Swan Mountain project presents a great opportunity to do that.

The project is planned for 12,300 acres of land in the Swan Mountain area south of Dillon Reservoir, including portions of the Swan River and Soda Creek watersheds. Proposed work includes a mixture of fuels reduction, trail enhancements and improvements to wildlife habitat, stream hydrology and transportation.

“This district’s important because it encompasses a lot of different resources all in one,” Bianchi said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get a lot of great work done under one project. … We’re looking across the landscape and looking holistically at what the ground and land needs, and how to best meet the needs of the community.”

The project is in a 60-day public comment period, which ends Dec. 13. Folks are able to comment on the project at FS.USDA.gov/project/?project=60771. Bianchi said the feedback will help to further refine the project before it moves onto environmental analysis, which looks at the effects associated with the plan.

“We’re really looking for input that would give us new ideas and maybe something that we should do differently or something that we’re missing,” Bianchi said. “… We’re early enough in the game where we can continue to change the proposal to best meet what the public thinks we need to be doing from a management perspective.”

The Forest Service also held a public field trip at the end of October to take interested parties around the project site, and Bianchi said the agency hopes to have similar events in the future. He said about 25 people came to the historic ranch site at Soda Creek to see where some trail realignments, stream restoration and burning could take place.

“I think people got a good understanding of what we’re trying to propose,” Bianchi said. “For the most part, I think people were very supportive of what we’re trying to accomplish and can see it on the ground why we were focusing on this area versus others.”

Ryan Hughes, prescribed fire and fuels specialist for the east zone of the White River National Forest, said public feedback on any Forest Service project is valuable, and this project will provide a huge benefit to the Summit community.

“That collaboration between the public, the Forest Service, our external partners — our municipal fire departments, the county … — really plays an integral role in making these projects successful and the best they can be,” Hughes said.

Hughes noted that the Swan Mountain project focuses a lot on removing dead timber.

“The idea behind it is to obviously remove some of the dead and down material from the lodgepole pine beetle outbreak that we still have out there,” Hughes said. “We’ve been picking away at that challenge the best we can, and I think we’ve been doing a really good job. We’ve seen a lot of value in a lot of those treatments when we have had large-scale fires in Summit County.”

Hughes said compartmentalizing the landscapes with these treatments gives fire managers a safer opportunity to engage fires in meadows and sagebrush areas without dead lodgepole pine stands, which are a significant safety hazard. He said the work aims to help keep a fire from moving toward populated areas.

Hughes said trails can double as fire line, so the project will also clean up vegetation around the Continental Divide Trail, among others.

Hughes noted that an important aspect of the plan is prescribed burning, something he said can be worrisome to the public. He said he hopes folks will be able to look beyond their initial concerns and trust that the Forest Service will have trained professionals on-site.

“When you see smoke and flames in your backyard, obviously that can get people’s hair standing up on the back of their neck and can cause concern,” Hughes said. “But really, when we talk about our ability to treat large areas of land, prescribed fire does a lot of things for the landscape. … It’s a natural thing that’s happened in the past and improves forest health.”

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