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US Forest Service approves Wyoming restoration project

August 17, 2020 GMT

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has approved a Wyoming forest restoration project to address mountain pine beetle infestation, wildfires and shifting forest vegetation conditions.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports that the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis project approved last week gives the agency authority to remove and sell beetle-killed timber, with the goal of reducing wildfire risk and improving forest conditions.

The plan also enables several forest management treatments across 450 square miles (1,166 square kilometers) over the next 15 years, including prescribed burns and tree thinning in the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges.

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The decision completes an environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Agencies now have the flexibility to execute smaller management projects during the 15-year time period without triggering another full environmental review.

“The LaVA project decision will provide us an amazing opportunity to increase the pace and scale of landscape restoration on the Snowy and Sierra Madre mountain ranges,” Forest Supervisor Russ Bacon said.

An uptick in frequency and severity of wildfires in the region was a factor in developing the management plan, he said.

“LaVA will give us a long-term foundation to implement fuels reduction projects that reduce the risk of catastrophic fire,” Bacon said. “There will be real benefits to reducing threats to public and firefighter safety, damage to property, as well as natural and cultural resources.”

Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities spokeswoman Dena Egenhoff said such management is crucial for area utilities dependent on reservoirs on land under the forest service’s oversight.

“The healthier and more resilient the forest is can only benefit our water and water quality,” she said.

Multiple conservation groups have objected to the project since its inception, saying the proposed treatment methods will irreparably damage the wildlife and habitats in the Medicine Bow National Forest and other areas.