USFS, BLM considering wildfire prevention work on 11,000+ acres southeast of Bonners

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are proposing a range of “treatments” on 11,300 acres of forested public land near Bonners Ferry in order to reduce wildfire danger and “improve overall forest health into the future,” according to a Feb. 9 announcement.

The so-called Katkee Fuels Project is part of a larger Wildfire Crisis Strategy developed by the Forest Service amid a dramatic upward trend in large-scale wildfires across the West. 

According to the project’s scoping documents, 4,684 acres would undergo “regenerative treatment,” meaning trees would be harvested to create openings in the forest canopy to establish new stands of fire-adapted species such as larch and ponderosa pine. A further 4,349 acres would undergo a combination of pre-commercial thinning, low thinning and commercial thinning. 

Pre-commercial thinning means harvesting trees before they reach merchantable size — about six inches in diameter — in order to reduce the density in crowded stands and increase the growth of remaining trees, while low thinning is the removal of trees whose crowns, or tops, are below those of surrounding trees in order to benefit the growth of the taller trees. 

The BLM would harvest merchantable trees on 732 acres and perform regenerative harvests on a further 316 acres.

Finally, fuel breaks will be established along powerline corridors and private land boundaries on 300 acres — intended to reduce fuels in strategic areas that will provide better opportunities for fire suppression — and 900 acres will be established as “burn only areas,” where vegetation will be ignited to reduce the natural fuels that carry fire across the landscape.

The total proposed project area encompasses 20,000 acres within the Idaho portion of the Kootenai Complex Wildfire Crisis Strategy Priority Landscape, and includes Two Tail and Katka peaks, as well as the Clifty and Black Mountain areas — all located entirely within Boundary County about seven miles southeast of Bonners Ferry.

Officials stated that in addition to reducing the amount of hazardous fuels, the project is intended to make forests more resilient to the stresses of climate change, insect infestation and disease outbreaks.

“The resultant landscape would remain healthier for a longer period and provide firefighters with greater opportunities to manage wildfires,” USFS stated in its news release.

Agencies developed the Katkee Fuels Project in coordination with the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative — a citizen collaborative group — to dovetail with landscape restoration work elsewhere in the Lower Kootenai River Valley on public and private lands.

The need for the project was highlighted by the wildfires that burned on tens of thousands of acres in Boundary County in late-summer and fall of 2022. Though they started as individual blazes in late-August and early-September, several of those fires merged and were reclassified as the Kootenai River Complex. All of the fires required months of intensive suppression efforts and created smoke-choked skies until unseasonably late in the year.

Though the vast majority of those fires burned to the northwest of Katka Peak, that fire presented significant challenges due to its rugged, steep terrain, poor access and accumulation of fuels. 

According to Katkee Fuels Project scoping documents, “Direct suppression tactics had limited effectiveness on this fire and potential future wildland fires under these conditions.”

Because of those conditions, the blaze generated spot fires and burned downhill toward private property, causing residents to fear for their safety and homes.

The Katkee proposal includes plans to work with landowners in the Bonners Ferry and Moyie Springs areas, and the public is being asked to provide feedback on the project, including elements that should be examined in the environmental assessment. 

Comments should be submitted by Saturday, March 2. To submit written comments, mail them to the Bonners Ferry Ranger District, Attn: Doug Nishek, 6286 Main St., Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805. For further questions or to provide verbal input, call Nishek at 208-267-5561.

Find the project documents at

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