A citizen committee meeting Wednesday and Thursday put the finishing touches on a once-in-a-decade plan that will shape forest management in Montana.
Decades of aggressively putting out wildfires led to unhealthy, overgrown forests at particularly high risk for burns and disease outbreaks. At the same time, a patchwork of land ownership makes addressing management problems hard to do. That’s where the Montana Forest Action Plan comes in.
The plan, released in late September, prioritizes 3.8 million acres, mostly in Western Montana, in need of large-scale restoration. That work means increasing forest resilience to wildfire and tolerance for prescribed burns, bolstering the timber industry, and combating climate change and insect and disease outbreaks across land ownership boundaries.
It was drafted by the Forest Action Advisory Council, which was created by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2019. The roughly 30-member group consists of representatives of government, tribes, the timber industry, and conservationists.
"The work that you’ve done over the last 18 months, any administration should be damn proud of. And there’s nothing political about it," Bullock told the council during their Wednesday meeting.
Bullock said for a long time, forest management was work that tore Montanans apart and symbolized "the divides between industry and conservation."
But the collaboration that went into the forest action plan represents a change in that rift. He said it shows "the unifying forces, more than the dividing."
John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the plan lays exciting groundwork for the future of forests in Montana.
"I challenge everybody on this call to work with your collaboratives, to get the best projects into this agency so we can rank 'em against this plan and get some stuff goin'. So let’s 'hear hear' to 2021!"
The Montana Forest Action Plan is expected to go to Bullock’s desk in December. Finalizing it will be one of his last acts as governor.
The draft plan also recommends establishing an implementation committee that will ensure its goals are met under governor-elect Republican Greg Gianforte’s administration