Sherman Pass Project Post-Fire Treatment Scenery Report Barbara Jackson, Landscape Architect, 3/30/2016

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1 Sherman Pass Project Post-Fire Treatment Scenery Report Barbara Jackson, Landscape Architect, 3/30/2016 Introduction This report updates the 2015 Sherman Pass Project Scenery Report based on changes in proposed treatments and potential changes in landscape character and scenic integrity as a result of the 2015 Graves Mountain Fire. This report builds on the analysis in the Scenery Report and analyzes the potential effects of post-fire vegetation and road treatments with consideration of change in condition from the Graves Mountain Fire. The post-fire Sherman Pass project is evaluated in this report using the Scenery Report analysis within the Sherman Pass Project environmental assessment. Scale of Analysis The original Sherman Pass Project is located approximately 4 miles southeast of the town of Republic, WA and approximately 5 miles west of the town of Kettle Falls, WA. The project area encompasses a major travel corridor along Washington State Route Highway 20 and crosses the Kettle Crest. The Graves Mountain Fire burned only within the Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed in the Sherman Pass Project area. Based on change in vegetation and watershed condition from the Graves Mountain Fire, vegetation treatments have been reduced in the Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed for the post-fire Sherman Pass project. The 26,380-acre Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed is the scale of this changed condition analysis. Graves Mountain Fire- Existing Landscape Character/Scenic Integrity The Graves Mountain Fire started on August 14, It was caused by lightning and burned 8,555 acres from Lane Creek/Graves Mountain area east to McGahee Creek in the upper elevations on the north side of Sherman Pass Scenic Byway Highway 20. The Graves MountainMnt. Fire did not burn down to the Highway 20 roadside corridor but burned, it is primarily above the landform terrace where the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) powerline corridor is located. Burn severity maps were produced and field-verified as part of the burned area emergency response (BAER) process for the Graves Mountaintn. Fire. The landscape character fire burn severity ranges from unburned to a range of low severity to medium to high severity as viewed in the middleground from Sherman Pass area. Fire intensity patterns range from low to moderate to high as viewed in the foreground and middleground from the dispersed campsites and forest road travel routes that provide access to them. The project area that was directly impacted by fire varies dramatically across the project from positive effects where the wildfire reduced fuel loadings to meet desired future condition to other areas where the fire has potentially recruited future dead fuels that will exist at levels that are uncharacteristic. The amount of 1

2 standing dead trees within the project area will pose concerns to future management of wildland fire. These concerns will add to the need for treatments within the identified strategically important areas within this project, as well as along key roads and adjacent to private lands to minimize fire effects to values at risk including the BPA power line and the Sherman Pass Highway 20 corridor. The existing high fuel loadings still present the potential to create a sudden change to the landscape character that could result from a wildfire in the unburned to low intensity burned areas. Potential Direct, Indirect, and Cumulative Effects This section analyzes the potential effects of the post-fire Sherman Pass Pproject proposed action modified and the no action alternative in the Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed based on changes in condition from the Graves Mountain Fire, and provides the rationale for the determination that the post-fire Sherman Pass Pproject would not have significant long-term effects to landscape character and scenic integrity. No Action The No Action Alternative would maintain the existing range of Low to Moderate to High Landscape Character and Scenic Integrity (condition). In the short-term, the landscape character in unburned or low severity fire would remain as a mosaic pattern of natural appearing to slightly altered and altered landscape character and scenic condition as it currently exists. In the areas where moderate to high severity fire occurred, the landscape character of effects of wildfire would stand out as dominating until black snags become weathered and turn silver and the ground greens up. In unburned areas or low severity fire areas, the vegetative component of the landscape would continue to grow through the pattern of natural succession with a high risk of future disturbance, primarily wildfire. Forest succession that has resulted from fire suppression shapes forest landscapes; the highly textured tree density patterns would continue to dominate the landscape character where they exist. In the unburned or low intensity fire areas, existing high fuel loadings have the potential to result in a sudden change to the landscape character that could result from a wildfire, which would be seen as a burned area. In the case of wildfire, the landscape character could dramatically change from a forested green setting to an area dominated by the visual evidence of wildfire. Fire intensity patterns would probably range from low to moderate to high viewed in the foreground and middleground from the dispersed recreation campsites and forest roads that provide access to these areas. The visual effects of a large scale wildfire would change the landscape character from a highly green textured pattern to a black, brown, and green interwoven landscape pattern. Wildfire visual characteristics would be dominant and evident for 5 to 10 years or more; snags would be created as a result of wildfire. The snags would be dominant for at least 5 years, and then begin to fall and create a jackstraw effect viewed along the forest roads and dispersed recreation campsites and would appear visually out of character for a natural appearing landscape. In general, natural forest disturbances that result in extensive areas of dead or dying trees are perceived negatively. There would be some risk to losing the highly valued large ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir if a wildfire were to occur. A sustainable green scenic forest may 2

3 not be maintained over time because of this high disturbance risk related to high fuel loadings and potential for catastrophic wildfire in unburned or low severity fire areas. Scenic quality of landscape character and scenic condition would have very low human intervention with nature taking its course. Disturbance to the existing landscape that would occur through mechanical disturbance related to activities of tree removal and prescribed burning would not be done. The opportunity to enhance scenic quality, by improving the forested setting and enhancing large tree character and quaking aspen stands would not be done. A transitional approach to treating the landscape by moving the landscape character towards a more sustainable forest setting that is more resilient to fire; disease and/or insect infestations would not be done. Consequently, the risk of largescale disturbances, which are already outside of their natural disturbance regime, would remain. The landscape would also continue to be affected by insects and diseases, with associated tree mortality and visual impacts to the landscape character, especially along the Sherman Pass National Scenic Byway corridor and associated developed recreation sites, which is scenic and at high risk for additional tree mortality, and the BPA powerline corridor and dispersed recreation sites, the insect and disease infestations would spread beyond areas that are currently affected. The road system would not be modified to reduce impacts on aquatic habitat and hydrologic function, and would not provide the opportunity to improve scenic integrity by rehabilitating and decommissioning roads or bringing them up to standard. Proposed Action Modified (Post-Fire Sherman Pass Treatments) The proposed vegetation management treatment is located on the north side of Sherman Pass Highway above the existing landform terrace where the BPA powerline corridor is located. Sherman Pass has an elevation of 5,575 feet and is the highest pass in the State of Washington kept open year round. Views are open to distant panorama vistas along the west side of the scenic byway and become predominantly confined to an enclosed tree lined foreground on the east side of the pass except in a few open areas where views of the surrounding mountains are seen. The Graves Mountaintn. Fire is on the east side of the pass in middleground viewing areas from Sherman Pass. As one travels down the Sherman Pass Highway 20, the landform rises steeply to an elevated terrace along this section of the highway on the northern side. The BPA power line corridor (Ferry County PUD) is located on this terrace and parallels Highway 20., Iit is screened very well because of this topographical location, but at Sherman Pass Summit area, the power line corridor becomes more visible from the highway and several developed recreation sites where it crosses through the area. On the eastern side of Sherman Pass, the power line is not visible from the highway. The Graves Mountain Fire burned to the BPA power line corridor disrupting service and there was a loss of electrical power to Republic and surrounding areas in norther Ferry County. The BPA powerline corridor still has timber stands around it that are creating potential safety concerns for continued uninterrupted operation due to hazard trees and unnatural fuel build up close to the power lines. There is an opportunity to manage fuels and hazard trees along the power line right-of- way 3

4 The Graves Mountain Fire is in Area 8 of the Sherman Pass Project Scenery Report. Within the Graves Mountaintn. Fire perimeter in the Sherman Pass Project area, all planned prescribed underburning was dropped. Where other ladder fuel and canopy treatments still need to occur, activity fuels would be treated either by whole tree yarding or through pile and pile burning. Where natural fire reduced fuels, treatments were dropped or modified to meet desired future conditions. Area 8: Commercial Treatment Units in Middleground of Sherman Pass Scenic Byway from Graves Mountain to the Coyote Mountain area with Modification to Maximum Modification VQO s. There are numerous treatment units that cover close to ½ the project area above the BPA power line corridor from Graves Mountain to the Coyote Mountain area. There are no developed recreation sites or travel routes of scenic concern in this area. It is not highly visible from Sherman Pass Scenic Byway which the highest scenic sensitivity in the project area. The Graves Mountain Fire and this area is viewed as midddleground to background from Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail which is addressed from the Columbia Mountain viewpoint in the Scenery Report for that viewshed. There are dispersed recreation sites that are accessed by forest roads that have been affected by the Graves Mountaintn. Fire. The following map displays the seen area from Columbia Mountain Viewpoint. Figure 1. Seen Area from Columbia Mountain Viewpoint. (Can Martha add the fire perimeter to this map?) The original proposed treatment ranged from approximately ½ of that area having ladder fuels reduction to ½ having commercial thinning, primarily with tractor logging systems. Now proposed modified post- fire treatments include a mixture of commercial and non-commercial treatments (Table 4

5 1). Approximately 184 acres are proposed for post-fire salvage of dead and dying trees. Road treatments would remain largely unchanged from the original Upper Sherman Project, with a slight reduction in miles of road reconstruction to facilitate vegetation removal. All underburning proposed within the burned area has been dropped. Approximately 45 units in the original proposed action were burned in the Graves Mountaintn. Fire resulting in changes to the proposed treatments for those units. Table 1: Post-Fire Treatment Changes Vegetation Treatment Post-fire acres Commercial Treatment Total 5,786* Commercial thinning 1,097 Small pole thinning 1,584 Commercial Thinning with openings 945 Commercial Thinning with Fuels Reduction Focus 1,483 Commercial Thinning with Species Selection 493 Commercial Thinning with openings and salvage 106 Salvage 78 Non-commercial Treatment Total 9,066* Pre-commercial thinning 1,076 Ladder fuel reduction 7,990 *Many stands will receive both commercial and non-commercial treatment. As a middleground to background view, the appearance would be a noticeable change to the existing highly densely textured landscape character that would result in a more clumpy mosaic pattern in the unburned to low severity burned areas. The moderate to high severity areas would look more open as the forest canopy is no longer existing or is sparse and, snags and the ground would stand out more. A transitional approach to move the high density stands towards a lower density species pattern and variety in composition would be implemented through harvest management activities and reduction of hazardous fuels and is desirable for landscape character and scenic enhancement. Restoring pattern, structure, and composition appropriate to the fire regime is beneficial for scenic quality. These treatments would be an enhancement for scenic quality by promoting and invigorating the growth of large mixed conifer stands in a manner that remains visually subordinate to the landscape character. The proposed action modified alternative would move stands toward desired future conditions, which are within the historic range of variability, and reduce the risk of uncharacteristic fire, while keeping effects to scenic integrity to a minimum, meeting all standards. Conclusion The Graves Mountain fire could have both short and long-term effects to landscape character and scenic integrity in the Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed, which are disclosed in this document. Post-fire vegetation treatments are designed and located to mitigate potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, and project design criteria and BMPs will ensure that effects to scenic resources are mitigated. 5

6 Effects to the Upper Sherman Creek subwatershed from the post-fire Sherman Pass Pproject to scenic resources are the same or less (based on a reduction in total treated acres) than those analyzed in the Sherman Pass Project Environmental Assessment. Design Criteria The post-fire Sherman Pass Pproject would follow all design criteria for protection of scenic resources in the Environmental Assessment to mitigate direct, indirect, and cumulative effects. 6

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