The city of Helena will select a new collaborative committee to explore future forestry projects in the Ten Mile Watershed.
The city convened the Ten Mile Watershed Collaborative Committee in 2008 to address threats to the city’s water supply from wildfire. In June 2009, the committee made recommendations to the city and the U.S. Forest Service, which included the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir Project calling for logging and other restoration work in the drainage.
Although neither the Forest Service nor the city has proposed any future projects, a new collaborative committee is needed to examine and possibly propose future work in the watershed, said City Manager Ron Alles.
“It’s important to have an active committee when projects start rolling,” he said. “We’ll need to address concerns with the Forest Service and be looking to take things to the Forest Service.”
At least some of that work could include logging trees killed by pine beetles that threaten communities or infrastructure, Alles said.
Alles made the announcement Wednesday evening with representatives from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Lake Helena Watershed Group, U.S. Forest Service, Tri-County Firesafe Working Group, Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service at an open house at the Baxendale Fire Station.
The purpose of the open house was to find ways to integrate the public into work in Ten Mile, said Marshall Thompson, partnership coordinator for the Helena National Forest.
“It’s really about what needs to be done and for different organizations to talk about what they’re doing in the watershed,” he said.
Work in the watershed ranges but includes forest restoration, mining cleanup and water quality work, he added.
The city will begin recruiting members for the new committee, called the Ten Mile South Helena Forest Restoration Collaborative Committee, if the Helena City Commission approves the measure. Alles expects approval to come in the next couple of weeks.
The new committee will have 11 members, and, unlike the previous committee, will not include any federal or state agency personnel. Agencies will serve as technical advisers for representatives from conservation groups, timber, city and county government and motorized and nonmotorized users, Alles said.
“A lot has changed since the original collaborative came together,” he said. “The pine beetles hit their height in 2010, and with the fuels we’re left with, now there’s new conditions that have to be addressed.”
Most important for the city of Helena is getting residents to participate in the process, Alles said.
In May, the Helena National Forest and DNRC announced a joint-chiefs’ agreement to share work on the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir project. DNRC spearheaded contracting for the project and final bids for logging 300 acres near the reservoir and flume are due this Friday.
In late June, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the project jeopardized protected species, the chance of wildfire in a specific location was low and the Forest Service needed more environmental analysis.
After filing the lawsuit, Director of the Native Ecosystems Council Sara Johnson said the Forest Service had plans for additional logging in the drainage, and that the cumulative effects went beyond the small project at Chessman.
Alles emphasized that if the collaborative or the Forest Service proposed any new work, those projects would each be judged comprehensively on their own merits.