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Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
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Pockets Aspen Stewardship Project - Phase II
Project Status: Pending Completed
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Need for Project
The Pockets Stewardship Agreement was designed to address vegetation management objectives outlined in the Pockets Resource Management Project EIS/SEIS/ROD that was approved by the Dixie National Forest in September 2009. This project was designed to address impacts to spruce-fir stands in the area from high levels of beetle infestations, and to maintain and restore aspen where it is being succeeded by conifers. An analysis of the existing condition in the project area a Forest Service interdisciplinary team shows an imbalance in aspen age classes with very little representation in the regeneration (seedlings/saplings) class. Most of the aspen clones are succeeding to spruce/fir; therefore, there is a need to regenerate aspen in mature and over-mature aspen stands that are succeeding to conifer. There is a need to reduce conifer competition within aspen stands to maintain aspen stands with a minimum of 70% aspen. There is a need to perform conifer removal on the project area which will improve existing conifer stand species composition and reduce the risk of insects and disease throughout the project area. For this phase of the project, a total of 202 of the proposed 568 acres will be treated in FY19. This proposal is a continuation of WRI #2111 - Pockets Aspen Stewardship Phase I. The proposed treatment area that was presented in that proposal has limited or no access to a majority of the unit. When it went out to bid there were no bids received for the work and it was quickly realized that the original estimated cost of $218/acre was too low. Since the original proposal, there have been project staff changes for both partners, and the project has been re-evaluated and treatment units have been re-prioritized based multiple factors including the feasibility of completion. Unit 6 which included the original 433 acres proposed in WRI #2111 has been dropped from the schedule of items and funds were subsequently focused on other units with the same prescribed treatment and wildlife and forest health benefits. In addition, this project will result in a reduction in the current fuel loading in existing aspen and spruce/fir stands to reduce the risk of stand replacing fire while maintaining sufficient down woody debris to accomplish other wildlife objectives. There is a need to reduce current snag densities following spruce beetle induced mortality to levels needed to support wildlife objectives. If snag densities are left at current levels then future fuel loading will exceed Dixie National Forest's Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) objectives. The restoration of aspen habitat will improve key habitat identified in the CWCS and summer range for deer, turkey, elk, and other wildlife species.
Provide evidence about the nature of the problem and the need to address it. Identify the significance of the problem using a variety of data sources. For example, if a habitat restoration project is being proposed to benefit greater sage-grouse, describe the existing plant community characteristics that limit habitat value for greater sage-grouse and identify the changes needed for habitat improvement.
The purpose of the aspen treatments is to restore both the distribution and balance of age-classes. Also, treatments will prevent unacceptable browsing damage and allow for establishment of aspen regeneration as required by the Dixie National Forest's Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP). The proposed thinning of spruce/fir stands will improve forest growing conditions, species composition, and reduce incidence and hazards associated with insect and disease. In addition, it will address two condition issues for the aspen-conifer habitat type which includes 1) correcting the deficit of young and middle age classes of aspen and 2) removing surpluses of older and conifer-encroached classes.
Provide an overall goal for the project and then provide clear, specific and measurable objectives (outcomes) to be accomplished by the proposed actions. If possible, tie to one or more of the public benefits UWRI is providing.
Ecological Threshold - Threats and Risks
Aspen clones will covert to conifer forests, and the loss of this important habitat type will result in the decreased use of the area by turkey, elk, and deer. If this project is delayed, it could create conditions wherein future habitat work would be more difficult and cost prohibitive. Currently, density levels are so high in some treatment areas that accessing them to conduct habitat treatments in a safe manner is difficult. If snag densities are left at current levels, then future fuel loading will exceed Dixie National Forest's Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) objectives which poses a greater catastrophic fire risk. Based on current forest stand conditions and known fire suppression team response times to the area, a fire would likely result in a stand replacing high intensity wild fire across the entire project area and effect adjacent forest stands. This would greatly impact the headwaters of Antimony Creek which is the drinking water supply for the town of Antimony. In addition, cutthroat trout and other fish species in Antimony Creek would be negatively impacted by a fire in the headwaters that would result in a heavy sediment load being released into the stream. This habitat type is identified as a key habitat in the Utah Wildlife Action Plan. A listed threat to this habitat type is "Inappropriate Fire Frequency and Intensity". The treatments outlined in this project proposal are identified as a good strategy for improving condition and mitigating threats to this habitat type in the Utah WAP. This project will utilize strategies for improving the condition of aspen-conifer habitat as outlined in the Utah WAP by applying mechanical disturbance agents such as timber harvest to stimulate aspen regeneration and avoid or reduce resource losses to conifer beetles.
Describe the potential risk of the project area crossing an ecological threshold to a point where future restoration would be more difficult, cost prohibitive or even impossible. An ecological threshold can be defined as "boundaries in time and space between two states that are not reversible on a practical time scale without management intervention" (Friedel 1991).
Relation to Management Plans
Dixie National Forest LRMP: This project was designed to address the concerns and objectives outlined in the forest plan: 1) vegetation treatments will provide for a full range of seral stages, 2) treatments will manage for aspen retention, 3) project has been designed in the aspen to accomplish wildlife management goals, 4) management actions designed to meet Regional Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) assessment, 5) project provides for wildlife habitat diversity, 6) treatments will improve habitat capability of wildlife, 7) maintain fuel fuel conditions that permit fire suppression forces to meet fire protection objectives for the area, 8) provide forage to sustain local dependent livestock industry. Utah Wildlife Action Plan: This project will restore aspen-conifer forest condition which is a Terrestrial Key Habitat under the Utah Wildlife Action Plan. Specifically, this project will address two condition issues for the aspen-conifer habitat type which includes 1) correcting the deficit of young and middle age classes of aspen and 2) removing surpluses of older and conifer-encroached classes. This project will utilize strategies for improving the condition of aspen-conifer habitat as outlined in the Utah WAP by applying mechanical disturbance agents such as timber harvest to stimulate aspen regeneration and avoid or reduce resource losses to conifer beetles. Utah Mule Deer Statewide Management Plan: This project will address conifer encroachment in aspen stands which is a listed habitat concern within this management plan. Treatments will increase carrying capacity by improving available habitat. The quality and quantity of forage within the project area will improve as a result of proposed vegetation treatments and re-seeding that will occur at the completion of the project. Unit 25 Deer Management Plan: This project will address three key issues identified in this management plan and include 1) project will manipulate vegetation to increase availability and abundance of forage species, 2) project will reduce threats of catastrophic wildfires by reducing fuel loads created by dead, beetle-kill trees, and 3) will support enhancement and restoration efforts in aspen forests by reducing spruce-fir encroachment. Utah Statewide Elk Management Plan: This project addresses the quality and quantity of forage within the project area which will improve as a result of the proposed vegetation treatments. Aspen stands are identified in this plan as high priority habitat for elk as it provides both forage and cover in the summer months and calving ares in the spring. Utah Wild Turkey Management Plan: This project will address objectives and concerns outlined in this plan by increasing wild turkey habitat, quality and quantity, by 40,000 acres statewide by 2020. Treatments will increase early successional habitat which will provide food via new understory plants and insects. Forest Service Region 4 PFC Assessment: 1) project will restore the distribution of aspen, 2) project will restore the balance of age-classes.
List management plans where this project will address an objective or strategy in the plan. Describe how the project area overlaps the objective or strategy in the plan and the relevance of the project to the successful implementation of those plans. It is best to provide this information in a list format with the description immediately following the plan objective or strategy.
Current surface fuel loading is in excess of 60 tons per acre with an average of 100 snags per acre. Fire Regime is Class IV and Fire Regime Condition Class is 2-3. Fuel Model 10. Given the remote location of the project area initial attack response time for fire exceeds 1.5 hours. Fire line construction will be difficult due to heavy amounts of large diameter down logs and dense conifer understory. Reducing the current fuel loading and distributing patch clearcuts throughout the project area will slow the rate of fire spread and reduce fire intensity. Under current conditions which are very similar to the conditions at Brian Head prior to the June 2017 fire, stand replacing high intensity wild fire will result across the entire project area and effect adjacent forest stands. This would greatly impact the headwaters of Antimony Creek which is the drinking water supply for the town of Antimony. In addition, cutthroat trout and other fish species in Antimony Creek would be negatively impacted by a fire in the headwaters that would result in a heavy sediment load being released into the stream.
If applicable, detail how the proposed project will significantly reduce the risk of fuel loading and/or continuity of hazardous fuels including the use of fire-wise species in re-seeding operations. Describe the value of any features being protected by reducing the risk of fire. Values may include; communities at risk, permanent infrastructure, municipal watersheds, campgrounds, critical wildlife habitat, etc. Include the size of the area where fuels are being reduced and the distance from the feature(s) at risk.
Some studies have shown that water yield can decrease (by ~5%) as areas succeed from aspen communities to conifer communities (Jaynes 1978, Bartos 2007). This project proposes to remove conifer succession from aspen communities which would have a net positive effect on increasing water yield/availability. In addition, this project is designed to reduce the risk of a large-scale, catastrophic, stand-replacing wildfire. If this type of event were to occur within the project area, there would be long-term negative watershed impacts including stream degradation (e.g., incision and down cutting), increased sediments loads, and impaired water quality.
Describe how the project has the potential to improve water quality and/or increase water quantity, both over the short and long term. Address run-off, erosion, soil infiltration, and flooding, if applicable.
The project area has received Archeological and NEPA clearances. Archeological clearance was granted on January 11, 2011. NEPA clearance was granted under the Pockets Resource Management Project EIS on January 6, 2012.
Description of efforts, both completed and planned, to bring the proposed action into compliance with any and all cultural resource, NEPA, ESA, etc. requirements. If compliance is not required enter "not applicable" and explain why not it is not required.
Per the Pockets Stewardship Agreement, a total of 568 acres will be pre-commercially thinned by cutting the understory conifer trees following commercial harvest during the life of this project. For this phase of the project, there is a proposed 202 of the 568 acres that will be completed in FY19. Commercial harvest has been completed on approximately 75% of the proposed phase II project area, and the remainder will be completed in summer 2018 with sufficient time for the pre-commercial treatments to be completed in FY19. As part of the pre-commercial treatments, existing aspen will not be cut and all subalpine fir and spruce less than 8 inches DBH will be removed. Enough spruce will be retained to create a stocked stand condition in case the aspen fails to dominate the site. Snag densities will be reduced to three snags per acre which will still provide an adequate number of snags for cavity nesters in the area. Once all treatments are completed, all landings and staging areas will be re-seeded per US Forest Service specifications. The overall forested condition within the project area is to create an aspen dominated overstory with scattered spruce snags and to reduce the overall fuel loading to below 30 tons per acre.
Describe the actions, activities, tasks to be implemented as part of the proposed project; how these activities will be carried out, equipment to be used, when, and by whom.
Monitoring of aspen regeneration will be completed by the Forest Service within the treatment areas. Monitoring protocols require a first, third and fifth year regeneration surveys. If surveys indicate greater than 30% of seedlings are being browsed within the first three years then game fencing will be installed. Based on the Dixie National Forest Plan, monitoring will be completed once there are a total of 5,000 stems per acre with a dominant height of 6 feet over 70% of the treatment area. Monitoring will also include stocking exams for thinned spruce stands. The Fire/Fuels section will conduct post-treatment fuels monitoring to document the fuels reduction objectives. If there are areas with post treatment fuel loads which exceed targets, then additional fuel reduction treatments will be scheduled. This additional fuels work is currently outside of the scope of this stewardship agreement. Post treatment wildlife surveys are not planned by the Forest Service at this time. Project Design Features were developed for this project during the EIS process which should minimize negative impacts to wildlife species on the project area. The operation timing restrictions (generally May 1 through June 15) will limit disturbance during the nesting season and the elk calving season.
Describe plans to monitor for project success and achievement of stated objectives. Include details on type of monitoring (vegetation, wildlife, etc.), schedule, assignments and how the results of these monitoring efforts will be reported and/or uploaded to this project page. If needed, upload detailed plans in the "attachments" section.
This project will be managed under an existing Stewardship Agreement with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the US Forest Service (SPA #09-SA-11046000-23). NWTF staff will be responsible for project management and implementation with assistance from USFS staff. NWTF and USFS will work together as partners to ensure the project is completed to USFS standards.
List any and all partners (agencies, organizations, NGO's, private landowners) that support the proposal and/or have been contacted and included in the planning and design of the proposed project. Describe efforts to gather input and include these agencies, landowners, permitees, sportsman groups, researchers, etc. that may be interested/affected by the proposed project. Partners do not have to provide funding or in-kind services to a project to be listed.
Some areas may experience strong wildlife browsing pressure. If browsing pressure is recorded at 30% of seedlings are being browsed within the first three years, wildlife exclusion fencing will be installed to reduce pressure and promote aspen regeneration. Based on the Dixie National Forest Plan, monitoring will be completed once there are a total of 5,000 stems per acre with a dominant height of 6 feet over 70% of the treatment area. This proposal is for phase II of this long-term project and an additional 335 acres of pre-commercial thinning will be completed in the following fiscal year in other units across the project area. Currently, access to these areas is either limited or non-existent. Temporary road construction will be completed in summer 2018 with Forest Service funds which will allow for better access to complete treatments.
Detail future methods or techniques (including administrative actions) that will be implemented to help in accomplishing the stated objectives and to insure the long term success/stability of the proposed project. This may include: post-treatment grazing rest and/or management plans/changes, wildlife herd/species management plan changes, ranch plans, conservation easements or other permanent protection plans, resource management plans, forest plans, etc.
Sustainable Uses of Natural Resources
Currently, there is an active grazing permit on the project area which is located within the Coyote livestock grazing allotment. The current grazing period is from mid-July through mid-October. The proposed treatments would create domestic livestock benefits. The thinning treatments and future patch cuts will result in an increase in forage production which will improve the quality and quantity of forage available to wildlife and livestock. By reducing conifer encroachment through mechanical thinning, the amount of aspen habitat in the project area will increase. Aspen stands typically have higher understory species diversity compared to conifer stands which provide more grasses and forbs that can be used as forage. In addition, temporary road construction and the re-seeding of temporary roads and landings will provide forage production for domestic livestock within the project area.
Potential for the proposed action to improve quality or quantity of sustainable uses such as grazing, timber harvest, biomass utilization, recreation, etc. Grazing improvements may include actions to improve forage availability and/or distribution of livestock.
Project Summary Report
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