White Salmon — The U.S. Forest Service will likely soon begin preparations to open up close to 3,800 acres of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest for commercial logging as part of a thinning operation that is slated to occur just a few miles outside of Trout Lake.

Recently, the Forest Service reached a Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) after conducting an environmental analysis (EA) on the planning project, which is referred to as the Coyote Thin. The project calls for the thinning of coniferous trees in the Upper and Lower Trout Lake Creek and Cave-Bear watersheds within the Mt. Adams Ranger District in Skamania County.

The Coyote Thin is projected to produce nearly 42 million board feet of timber once thinning operations have been completed. According to the Idaho Forest Products Commission, that's enough lumber to build nearly 1,400 homes measuring 2,400 square feet in size (approximately the size of the average American house).

Jon Nakae, project leader for the Coyote Thin, noted that the thinning operation is a fairly sizable one, especially when compared to other thins both scheduled and proposed for the Gifford Pinchot and the Mt. Adams Ranger District in particular.

"It's one of our largest thinning projects we've done under a single EA," he said.

According to the FONSI, there are a variety of reasons for thinning this section of the forest, but the main reason is to improve forest health. The majority of tree stands in the project area were clear-cut harvested in the 1950s and were replanted with Douglas fir in high densities. This high-density planting and lack of biodiversity would cause the growth of these tree stands to stagnate over time and prevent the forest from returning to its original state prior to the arrival of settlers in the late 19th century.

"Basically, the objective is to have an old-growth forest back," Nakae explained.

Other objectives for the Coyote Thin are to improve huckleberry production, reduce wildfire risk in moderate- and high-risk areas, restore diverted or relocated stream channels, and reduce road density in the watershed.

Outside of the forest benefits, the FONSI says the Coyote Thin will provide economic benefits, including revenue to Skamania County as well as giving loggers more access to timber, noting that the "Forest [Service] recognizes the challenges timber purchasers face in the current economic markets."

The project will include a mix of moderate to heavy thinning. Moderate thinning will leave 85-120 trees per acre and 40-60 percent canopy cover while heavy thinning will leave 65-90 trees per acre and 30-40 percent canopy cover. Approximately 3,000 acres will be harvested using ground-based equipment, 700 acres by skyline/cable, and 100 acres via helicopter. A little over 21 miles of temporary roads would be constructed to facilitate log removal.

Planning for the Coyote Thin dates back to 2008 when the Forest Service began assessing the feasibility of thinning operations in a variety of watersheds. A description of the proposal was sent out to those on the Forest Service mailing list last February and seven comment letters were received in response that were used to help formulate the final proposed action. Concerns included making sure there were cutting buffers along riparian areas, a buffer to prevent new log road construction near cave areas, and the protection of native and endangered species.

Nakae said for the most part, there hasn't been a lot of opposition to the project.

"There have been little bits [of negative comments], but in general, most people have been pretty supportive."

Preparation for the Coyote Thin will likely begin this summer, although Nakae mentioned that work could start "immediately" if the Forest Service didn't receive any appeals. Timber sales could also start this summer, but would most likely be conducted from 2014-16 through multiple contracts.

The Coyote Thin is currently in the appeal period, which runs until the end of March. For more information, contact Erin Black at the Mt. Adams Ranger District: 395-3411 or ekblack@fs.fed.us.

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