November 30, a ferocious windstorm toppled as many as 10,000 trees in the Middle Fork San Joaquin River watershed of the Inyo National Forest. The Forest Service earlier reported that the damage occured in patches from Island Pass all the way down to Fish Creek and throughout the Reds Meadow Valley.
In recent weeks, the Forest Service Mammoth District Ranger, Jon Regelbrugge, said that the goal is to open as many of the Reds Meadow Valley recreations sites and trails to the public as soon as is “feasible and safe,” he said. The plan of clean-up and repair is designed to have the least impact on public use this summer. Some work was done in December and January. The Forest Service said that the Inyo National Forest, Devils Postpile National Monument and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area partnered in the work. Downed trees have been removed from Reds Meadow Road, Reds Meadow Campground, Rainbow Falls trailhead and the ranger station area and Postpile Trail. The rest of the clean-up will happen when snow melts. Meanwhile, the Forest Service has gone public with an official project to clean up the tree damage. They have asked for public comment by March 23rd. The following is the press release that explains the project.
“Comments Sought for Reds Meadow Valley Wind-Fallen Tree Removal Project –
The Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Ranger District is soliciting comments on a proposed project to remove wind-fallen trees from Reds Meadow Valley. On November 30 of last year an extreme wind event caused large numbers of trees to be blown down in the Reds Meadow Valley. The Inyo National Forest is proposing to remove wind-fallen trees on approximately 220 acres where severe wind damage occurred. A half mile of temporary roads would be constructed to access proposed treatment areas. Slash would be removed by chipping and hauling, piling burning and/or burning areas of concentrated slash, known as jackpot burning. All proposed tree removal is located on Inyo National Forest lands outside of the adjacent Ansel Adams Wilderness.
The purpose of this project is to reduce the potential for future high intensity wildfire and to move toward establishment of wildfire defensible space within the wildland-urban interface(WUI) zone. The 220 acres affected by severe wind damage are located within the WUI zone surrounding Forest Service and Park Service administrative facilities, a resort and pack stations, and other recreation developments. On these 220 acres, the majority of trees have been uprooted, leaving a dense tangle of down trees. The depth and density of down trees constitutes an extremely high concentration of ground fuel. Such heavy ground fuels create conditions where wildfires can move quickly through the needles and limbs, with a very high rate of fire spread and flame lengths up to 25 feet.
The proposed actions are needed to reduce the hazardous fuel load created by this dense concentration of down trees within the WUI zone. The need for fuels reduction treatment is made more important due to the limited travel access into the area. There is only one point of access into Reds Meadow Valley which is a single lane road with turn-outs along the steep, upper three miles of the route. Defensible space is needed in the event a wildfire should hinder evacuation on the sole road out of the valley. It would be critical for firefighters to have the fuels treatment zone for safely and effectively managing the wildfire while everyone is being evacuated.
A preliminary assessment has indicated that this proposal falls within a category of actions that are Categorically Excluded from the need to prepare an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement. The preliminary assessment also suggests that there are no extraordinary circumstances that would preclude use of the category for the salvage of dead and or dying trees due to a wind event on an area not exceeding 250 acres and requiring no more than ½ mile of temporary road construction.
This scoping period is intended to provide those interested in or affected by this proposal an opportunity to raise concerns or provide input on the potential effects of the proposed project. To obtain additional information about the proposed project and maps you may visit the Inyo National Forest website at http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=38178. Additional information may also be obtained from the Project Leader, Sue Farley, via email at [email protected]
How to Comment and Timeframe –
If you have information you feel the Forest Service may not be aware of, or you have issues regarding potential effects of this proposal, please mail these in writing to the Project Leader, Sue Farley at: Mammoth Ranger District, Inyo National Forest, P.O. Box 148, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546. Comments may also be submitted by fax (760.924.5537) or by hand-delivery to the Mammoth Ranger District office, during normal business hours (Monday – Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm). Electronic comments may be submitted via the Inyo National Forest website at http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=38178. All comments must be received by March 23, 2012.”