A sizable stand of timber near a Chewelah landmark could see a change in designation in the new Colville National Forest Plan. According to “Plan P” or the “Preferred Alternative” for the Forest Service, the 5,300-acre Quartzite area would be changed to a “Backcountry” designation.
Public comment for the new forest plan is open until July 5.
Stevens County Commissioner Steve Parker mentioned this to the Chewelah Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago while talking about the new forest plan. Parker said that the commissioners have been dismayed so far as to how the Forest Service has worked with the commissioners and that they support the old 1988 Forest Plan and making no changes to how the Colville National Forest is managed.
“I don’t want the Forest Service to feel like they can just check their box for public input,” Parker said. “The impact of a new forest plan is very important for Stevens County.”
Parker and other Stevens County Commissioners have been very visible in public meetings concerning the new forest plan. After this public comment period, Parker said the commissioners will re-engage the coordination process and see where the Forest Service is at with their plans.
“They should be asking what should be done and they should be asking what is the right thing to do,” Parker said. “Then you got the right target for a plan.”
At the Chamber meeting, several local business owners also voiced concerns about what this new designation might mean for the town of Chewelah. With its proximity to the economically important 49 Degrees North ski resort and private residents on the east side of the valley, several worried what this could mean for the fire safety of those areas.
A “Backcountry” designation by the National Forest Service would emphasize non-motorized recreation opportunities and motor vehicles would be prohibited.
Included as part of the original potential wilderness analysis since it’s an area greater than 5,000 acres with no National Forest roads, the Quartzite area was not recommended as wilderness in the proposed action plan but had remote characteristics that qualify as backcountry, Deborah Kelly, the CNF Forest Plan Revision Public Affairs Lead, said.
Backcountry recreation opportunities would include foot, horse and biking modes of travel. No roads will be removed and no National Forest system roads currently exist in the designated backcountry area. The roads along the outer edges of the backcountry area would retain their existing uses.
Timber harvesting is still allowed in a backcountry-designated area, Kelly said. These would occur for safety reasons or to maintain or enhance the semi-primitive or remote characteristics of the area.
“Timber harvest options would be limited over most of the area due to resource impact concerns,” Kelly said. “Review of the area indicates that unacceptable resource impacts would likely occur due to road construction activities.”
This does not rule out helicopter logging, Kelly added, but said that this type of logging would not be an economically viable option. She said that only one treatment was done along the southeast edge of Quartzite backcountry designated area – done between 2006 and 2007 – in a small overlap area with the timber sale.
The Colville National Forest, Kelly said, reached out to community members throughout Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties “to engage interested individuals and groups back in 2006-2008; additional opportunities to engage in the planning process were provided in 2011 and 2016. They also held a series of collaborative learning sessions known as “The Summit” between 2006 and 2008, kicking off with a three-day kick-off session at the Chewelah Peak Learning Center and featuring follow-up collaboration meetings in the Colville Ambulance Training Center.
“And there were a good number of people from throughout the three county areas that participated in all of the sessions, including some of the county commissioners from the various counties,” Kelly said.
Recommendations, ideas and suggestions from those early sessions resulted in the 2011 Proposed Action. Public information meetings took place in Republic, Colville, Newport and Spokane and the comments received on that proposal helped the service identify the issues and concerns that the public, tribes, counties and other agencies had with it, Kelly said.
In the 2016 phase of the forest service’s planning, four action alternatives have been developed and two other alternative plans – the current 1988 plan as amended and the 2011 proposed action plan.
Public comment on the new forest plan opened Feb. 19 and will close on July 5.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff