Fernberg Road plan for logging, burning to reduce wildfire risk

Fernberg Project Area (U.S. Forest Service)

The Superior National Forest has released a new proposal to manage large sections of land in and adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along the Fernberg Road corridor. The road extends approximately 19 miles from Ely to the Lake One entry point. The corridor, from one-and-a-half to four miles across, is surrounded on three sides by the wilderness area, with numerous resorts, outfitters, and private homes and cabins located throughout.

“The Fernberg Project includes mixed ownership encompassing approximately 174,873 acres including approximately 84,000 acres inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW),” says Aaron Kania, Kawishiwi District Ranger, Superior National Forest. “Inside the BWCAW, initial proposed actions are for prescribed burning and related activities on approximately 26,000 acres with the remaining 58,000 acres being contingency areas for the prescribed burn units. We have been working with the Tribes, MN DNR, DoveTail Partners and other partners on this project.”

The project would include everything from harvesting timber on about 9,000 acres to prescribed burning on 26,000 to 84,000 acres of forest in and around the wilderness area. It would also authorize the expansion of four gravel pits in the area, which would grow by 64 acres in total. Project activities may stretch over the next two decades.

Map of proposed project activities (U.S. Forest Service)

Now open to public comments on the project’s scoping phase, the Fernberg Project would be a significant and visible project. The Forest Service says it may need to seek an amendment to its Forest Plan to authorize burning inside the Boundary Waters.

The Forest Service says the project is needed to accomplish numerous goals. By burning within the Boundary Waters along its edges, the agency hopes to reduce the risk of a wildfire starting in the wilderness and spreading through unhealthy forest to areas outside the wilderness, where fire could have disastrous effect on private property. They also say it could support another goal: being able to safely allow future natural, lightning-caused fires ignited within the Boundary Waters to burn, rather than suppressed as quickly as possible.

The agency says it has consulted with Native American tribes in the area, and its objectives align with tribal priorities. Earlier this year, the Superior National Forest signed a memorandum of understanding with local tribes to jointly manage its lands and natural resources.

Currently considering what environmental issues need to be considered in the project’s environmental review, the Forest Service is accepting comments until Jan. 18, which can be submitted online. All project documents are available here. A public meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Kawishiwi Ranger District station in Ely, and Dec. 19 from 4 to 6 p.m. online.

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