The Bitterroot National Forest held the first in a series of public meetings on the Bitterroot Front Project last Thursday, October 10th at the Darby Community Clubhouse. According to forest officials, the “Bitterroot Front Project” will aim to increase landscape resiliency, provide for public and firefighter safety, reduce fire risk to communities, improve wildlife habitat, and contribute to community viability with forest products and jobs, as well as recreation opportunities.
The project area encompasses approximately 150,000 acres of the Forest from the southern end of the Darby Ranger District near Trapper Creek north to the Forest boundary at the northern end of the Stevensville Ranger District near McClain Creek. Approximately 50,000 acres of the project area falls within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). The project will include a variety of fuel reduction treatment options including but not limited to: prescribed burning, non-commercial and commercial thinning. During this early stage of project development, the Forest is also looking at opportunities for watershed and wildlife habitat enhancement, transportation management, and recreation projects.
Participants heard a presentation from Byron Bonney with Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) on fire impacts along the Bitterroot Front and effects on homeowners living in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
Bonney showed the history of forest fires on the Bitterroot National Forest noting that there were significant fires almost every two years. He said fires were to be expected in the future.
He said that there were three basic factors influencing all fires: fuel, weather and topography.
“We only control the fuels,” said Bonney. We do that, he said, by creating a 100 foot protected zone around our homes and by treating the adjacent wooded lands reducing the fuel loads. He said that “every acre treated will help us tactically and strategically in the future when we have to fight these fires.
For this project, a “Shared Stewardship Approach” will be used to encourage vegetation treatments across boundaries to achieve a landscape scale outcome. The objective is to treat as much of the WUI as possible while providing opportunities for private landowners to learn about and potentially participate in fuel reduction efforts including prescribed fire, non-commercial thinning, and commercial timber harvest. Partners including Montana DNRC, Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), and Natural Resources and Conservation Services (NRCS) had personnel on hand to discuss the various programs designed to assist private landowners with fuels mitigation projects.
“If we don’t manage our fuels, they will manage us,” said Bonney.
After the presentation, participants visited with Forest Service personnel in small group discussions focused on forest health and vegetation management, fire risk and fuels mitigation, as well as recreation and public access and road systems on USFS lands within the project area.
For more information contact Eric Winthers, Darby/Sula District Ranger at 406-821-4244.