We’re in! That is, the Hayden Lake Watershed is in The Honey Badger Project. This project, managed by the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF), covers 52,600 acres of the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. It extends from south of Farragut State Park to south of Canfield Buttes and into French Gulch. It reaches from the western slope of Canfield Buttes, around the eastern shoreline of Hayden Lake, and east to the Hayden Lake Watershed boundary. In total, the project includes 63% of the Hayden Lake drainage.
The purpose of the HBP
In designing this large-area management plan, the Forest Service has multiple objectives in mind:
- Improve forest health by establishing and maintaining a disease-, insect-, drought-, and fire-resilient forest.
- Reduce the potential for high-intensity wildfires while promoting desirable fire behavior characteristics and fuel conditions.
- Maintain or improve water quality and aquatic species’ habitat.
- Develop, restore, and maintain sustainable recreation options.
What is Forest Health?
A healthy forest is biodiverse and resilient. Over time, the healthy forest provides habitat for many species, improves air quality, filters water, and prevents erosion. It combats climate change and supports local industry and culture. A forest becomes unhealthy when it can no longer sustain diverse plant and animal life, compromising its other vital functions.
The forests in the Hayden Lake Watershed exhibit moderate signs of root disease and insect infestation. These are indicators that they are looking at an unhealthy future (Forest Health Evaluation – HBP). Such evidence foretells the eventual demise of the trees standing today. It also indicates how unlikely it is that trees of the same species will grow naturally to replace their elders. Left untreated, the dangers that threaten a few trees can spread and become entrenched in the ecosystem for a few years or hundreds of years, depending on the source. Intentionally establishing tolerant and resilient tree stands will help our forested areas survive and thrive through generations.
The Honey Badger Project proposes five different types of treatment, depending on the type and extent of disease or infestation identified. These range from clearcutting to selective cutting. See, Vegetation Treatments, starting on page 12 of the HBP Environmental Assessment for descriptions of these treatments. IPNF expects timber harvests to begin in 2022 and to be spread across the following ten years. Associated road work will accompany each harvest along with prescribed burning, followed by tree planting.
Explore an interactive map to see the areas where the project proposes to implement each treatment type.
Fire can be Either Beneficial or Devastating.
The forest ecosystems that cover the watershed grow and change continually. The Hayden Lake area’s last stand-replacing fire took place in the 1750s. Since then, the forest has regrown, evolved, and is now comprised of older, more shade tolerant, more disease susceptible trees than in earlier decades. No beneficial, low-level, debris-clearing fires have cleaned the forest floor in the intervening years. As a result, the understory is thick with vegetation and decaying biomass.
What’s more, treefall due to disease, insect infestation, and drought adds to the fuel supply. As the supply grows, the potential for hard to control, ultra-hot wildfires grows as well. It’s evident that clearing fuel build-up will avoid high-intensity wildfires now and in the future.
The Honey Badger Project proposes to follow all tree-harvesting treatments with an under-burn. This use of fire reduces fuels resulting from harvest activities and naturally present fuels, including litter, down wood, brush, and small trees. These burns also simulate the beneficial work of fire from before the days of fire suppression. Landscape burns outside of tree harvests will also occur in prescribed areas, beginning as early as 2022.
The Fuels Reduction section, page 15 of the HBP Environmental Assessment, explains the motivations, pros, and cons of these plans.
The Lake’s Water Quality Comes from the Watershed.
There is no Hayden Lake without its watershed, that is, all the land area that drains to the lake. The watershed system, comprised of the forests, forest animals, the land itself, rain, and runoff, naturally works to sustain healthy aspects of all its parts, including the water quality and aquatic habitat health that we enjoy. Humans, also a part of the watershed system, can indirectly damage its health more than any other part. And we can repair the health of the watershed as well.
In the Honey Badger project area, unmanaged recreation and the existing road network are the primary threats to water quality from the watershed. Specifically, human-built roads, rogue trails, and muddy bogs cleared of plant life provide pathways for sediment-laden water to runoff from the forest into the lake. By restoring the forest vegetation where it has been damaged and repairing roads and trails to minimize erosion, we slow and sink water runoff and stop sediment movement. This outcome, in turn, protects Hayden Lake’s water quality and aquatic habitat.
The Honey Badger Project proposes to decommission roads and trails that are no longer needed and repair slopes and drainage along necessary roads. A single identified culvert replacement and streambank repair could occur in the summer of ’22. The timing of road work will depend on which roads are needed for other activities (maintenance, reconstruction, construction) or not needed (decommissioning, long-term storage). This work will span the timeline of the project because roadwork is closely tied to forest treatments. See Activities to Improve Water Quality on page 12 of the HBP Environmental Assessment.
Our Forests are Not Just About Timber.
We cherish the forests for the timber they provide and for the social and emotional benefit they impart. Nevertheless, the increasingly indiscriminate use of settings like the Canfield trail system or the Hayden Creek shooting range leads to overuse of the land. Such overuse puts the forest health, water quality, and recreational value of the watershed in jeopardy. Restoring areas that have been degraded by recreational use and carefully managing these ensures their continued accessibility in the near and distant future. To that end, the Honey Badger Project has supported the design of an extensive trail system to meet the needs of many different recreation types while preserving the health of the forest and the watershed.
The Honey Badger Project proposes to modify the trail system as necessary to realize the design. Trails work may begin as early as spring ’22 but could take multiple years to complete. See Activities to Improve Sustainable Recreation Trails on page 17 of the HBP Environmental Assessment.
What is Your Role in the Honey Badger Project?
The managers of this vast project intend to engage the public throughout the project’s life with updates, field trips, etc. More specific timing information will be available as the process unfolds. So, subscribe to email updates while you’re on the site.
Note that the Hayden Lake watershed Association is watching the project closely. They have proposed an amendment to the project to mitigate the impact of Forest Service Road (FSR) 437 on Hayden Lake’s water quality. Stay abreast of their project-related work by watching their website.
References - find more on the web:
What Defines a Healthy Forest
Kootenai Fuels Reduction Project