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Forest Service eyes Fernberg Corridor Project

by Parker Loew

The review process has gotten underway for the Fernberg Corridor management project, with the Forest Service expecting a final management plan to be in place by early 2025.

The primary goal of the project will likely be to attempt to reduce the risk of damage from a potential wildfire through mechanical fuels reduction.

Fuels reduction is an initiative the Forest Service has been taking more seriously in the Ely area as of late, with the amount of highly flammable dead balsam fir trees rapidly increasing as a result of spruce budworm.

“Fuels reduction is one of the biggest things in this whole project area,” said Linda Merriman

NEPA Coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service. “Spruce budworm is killing off all the balsam and all the spruce, and that can lead to a pretty high-risk situation if we were to get the right weather conditions.”

One complication with managing the Fernberg Corridor the Forest Service must look at when coming up with a management plan is the number of people and structures in the area.

“The combination of the number of recreating people, people with cabins, and number of businesses along with proximity to wilderness and existing fuel and vegetation conditions is probably the biggest complexities on this project,” said Merriman.

The main ways the Forest Service plans to reduce fuel loads in the corridor will be prescribed burns and timber harvest.

The Forest Service will need to collaborate and work with landowners in the area to reduce fuel loads in the forests and protect the infrastructure established there, including camps and private residences.

“There’s a lot of mixed ownership in this project,” said Merriman. “We’ve sent out roughly 1,500 scoping letters, which means there are approximately 1,500 different address points within this project.”

On top of complexities involving ownership, the terrain is difficult for mechanical operations such as timber harvesting and mechanical fuels reduction, which is why the Forest Service would like to gravitate toward prescribed burns in the area.

In addition to fuels reduction, the Forest Service also plans on taking on some smaller-scale wildlife improvement projects and partnering with the National Park Service to construct an extension of the North Country Trail.

An open house was held Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Kawishiwi Ranger District for the public to give input about the Fernberg project.

At the open house were people from just about every area of the Forest Service, including biologists, soil specialists, and wilderness professionals, as well as district ranger Aaron Kania.

The Forest Service takes public input very seriously and will take the input received at the open house into consideration when devising its management plan for the Fernberg Corridor.

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