The Shasta-Trinity National Forest proposes a prescribed fire project in the Trinity Alps Wilderness north of Denny.

The agency recently released the Trinity Alps Wilderness Prescribed Fire Project Environmental Assessment on the proposed multi-year project which could encompass up to 19,088 acres in the wilderness on the Big Bar Ranger District. A 30-day public comment period on the assessment ends Aug. 26.

The project is meant to reduce fuel loads. Major ridgelines that could be a strategic place to hold future fires currently have high fuel loadings themselves due to fire-killed trees and trees downed in previous firefighting efforts, according to the Environmental Assessment.

By reducing fuels in wildfire-prone areas, the project would also help protect nearby communities and valuable resources, the U.S. Forest Service said.

The proposed alternative includes:

► Megram Ridge - Burning a large area from Megram Ridge down to creeks on either side. Approximately 9,619 acres.

► Barron Creek – Use ridge-top ignitions on Fawn Ridge and/or the ridgeline separating Barron Creek and Quinby Creek drainages. Fire would be predicted to back downhill to the Wilderness/project boundary to the south, New River to the east, Fawn Ridge to the north, and the ridgeline separating Barron and Quinby Creek drainages to the west. Approximately 2,165 acres.

► 1,000-foot burns from several ridges - Salmon Summit to Election Gap, approximately 1,682 acres. Election Gap to New River, approximately 1,204 acres. Salmon Summit to Fawn Ridge, approximately 2,039 acres.

► There are two other alternatives, No Action Alternative and Alternative 3. Alternative 3 would would add approximately 2,379 acres to the treatments from the proposed alternative, for a total of approximately 19,088 acres of prescribed fire.

According to the Environmental Assessment, “Proposed treatments consist of igniting prescribed fire along ridge tops to create a mosaic burn severity pattern, primarily of low- to moderate-severity surface fire as the fire backs down the slope.”

The assessment states that prescribed fire would consist of aerial ignition (plastic sphere dispenser and/or helitorch) and/or hand lighting methods. However, due to rough terrain, fuel density, and remoteness, hand crew ignition is likely to be limited and might not occur at all.

Approximately two days of intermittent helicopter presence (4-5 non-contiguous hours per day) within wilderness per year for up to 10 years are expected.

Although historically the area had frequent, low intensity fires, the Forest Service notes that several large, high-severity fires in the area going back to 1999 were fueled by dense vegetation after many years of aggressive fire suppression. Those fires left a large amount of dead and down debris.

“The large patches of heavy dead and down woody debris will likely lead to a continued cycle of large fires with large high severity patches,” said Forest Fire Ecologist Kevin Osborne. “These large fires are more intense, and more difficult to control, especially in the western half of the Trinity Alps.”

From the Trinity River Management Unit, District Ranger Joe Smailes said the project is anticipated to be done in stages over the course of 10 years, with preferred ignition in late fall/early spring, “certainly not in the summer.”

Public input on this project was gathered in 2010.

The project had its critics then and now, including retired U.S. Forest Service employee Dave Rhodes of Lewiston, who was fire management officer for the Big Bar Ranger District from 1972 to 1990.

Rhodes finds this proposal to be risky.

“I’m not against prescribed fire in any way shape or form because I did a lot of it,” he said, referring to slash burning after clear cuts. But even then there would be a line around it, road access, and fire trucks and manpower on the spot to catch the fire if needed, Rhodes said.

In the wilderness which is roadless, “If they light that off they’re taking a big chance because if it goes haywire on them they’re going to have a hard time controlling it,” Rhodes said. “Very, very rugged terrain … Very slow access.”

In addition to potential risks to people and resource damage, Rhodes said, “there are quite a few historic sites in there.”

Smailes said, “Any time we light off we take this very seriously. We look at all the weather conditions and there are strict protocols, procedures we adhere to before we ignite a prescribed burn … If conditions aren’t right we won’t fire off.”

There will be firefighters in place on the ground to help control the fire, Smailes said, although he acknowledged that they won’t be placed in some areas which are too steep.

More information on the project including instructions for commenting can be found on the Forest website: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=30965, or contact Stephanie Riess at the Weaverville Ranger Station at stephanie.riess@usda.gov or 623-1755.

Comments will be accepted until a decision is made on the project; however, to have legal standing for an objection, comments must be received by Aug. 26.

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