Montana Public Radio


Montana Governor Steve Bullock announces the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative at Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake Montana August 16, 2016..
Corin Cates-Carney

In June, Montana’s Democratic Governor Steve Bullock was elected chairman of the Western Governors' Association. The WGA is made up of 14 Republicans, six Democrats and two independents.

Tuesday, Bullock announced that he’s launching a new WGA initiative. He’s calling it the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative.

In response to our August 4 interview with Bitterroot National Forest District Ranger Eric Winthers about the forest thinning project in the area of the Roaring Lion Fire, and the litigation over it, Forest Spokesman Tod McKay offered the following clarifications:  

Shortly after the Roaring Lion Fire broke out July 31st, charges and  counter-charges flew that a lawsuit or lawsuits had or had not stopped US Forest Service attempts to log or thin the affected area to reduce fire danger. 

I interviewed the Bitterroot National Forest's District Ranger about that on August 1st, you can read that interview, edited only for clarity, in its entirety below. 

On August 5th Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay sent me the following email: 

"I just want to clarify something that may have been a little confusing.  It was in response to your question on timing when you asked, 'so you guys were literally within weeks of getting out there and doing some treatment to reduce fire dangers?”' Eric (Winteher)’s response, 'Yes, the Forest Supervisor had signed the decision, and we were proceeding ahead, getting ready to get that going.'

Just a couple of clarifications on this.

  1.  We were a couple of weeks away from working on the contract to implement this project—i.e., not a couple of weeks away from on-the-ground thinning or logging. We expected to award a contract in September (before the end of the FY) and that work would begin in the winter.
  1. The lawsuit was filed July 26, 2016. Plaintiffs requested an injunction but none has been issued to date. In other words, we had no reason to, nor any plan to alter the Westside Project timeline at the point in time when the Roaring Lion Fire started.

We hope this helps clear-up confusion regarding the actual ‘start time’ of the project and are sorry that we weren’t more clear in the interview. "

We have also reached out to the attorney's for the litigants in the lawsuit, asking for comment, and have not heard back at this time. 

We regret any confusion caused by publishing incorrect information given to us by the Bitterroot National Forest, and plan to follow up with additional reporting on this story. 

-Eric Whitney, News Director, Montana Public Radio. 

Part of the Bitterroot National Forest that’s burning in the Roaring Lion fire southwest of Hamilton was just a couple of weeks away from being logged and thinned – both to sell timber and to reduce fire danger. But a lawsuit filed three weeks after the project was approved put a halt to it.

Timber sales and thinning projects can have an impact on whether wildfires start and their ability to spread, but don't necessarily guarantee improved fire safety.

Firefighters call the Roaring Lion Fire one of the worst they've ever seen. A common refrain among evacuees: The Forest Service should more aggressively thin forests to prevent fires and create jobs.


New Campaign Touts Benefits Of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Courtesy Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

A coalition of Seeley Lake and Ovando-area residents say they’ve developed a plan to both protect and use local public lands. The group’s rebooted its public relations campaign to attract some congressional attention.

A logging proposal just north of Whitefish seems to have widespread local backing. It’s also raised a few quality-of-life related concerns.

Hundreds of Montana timber workers will keep their jobs in mills in Evergreen and Columbia Falls, this after forest products giants Plum Creek Timber and Weyerhaeuser consummated their merger today.

Live and beetle killed trees in the Helena National Forest.
Steve Jess

State officials say the new kinds of forest management tools the Farm Bill gave them are good for both Montana’s forests and the state’s economy. But some environmentalists say those claims are dubious at best.

Wildland Firefighters working on fire line on the West Fork Fish Creek Fire in 2015.

The U.S. Forest Service will have to wait before it can change how it pays to fight wildfires.

When federal fire suppression funds run out during bad fire years, the agency has to transfer money from its other programs to cover those costs. Firefighting now costs the agency over half of its $5 billion total annual budget.

New Campaign Touts Benefits Of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Courtesy Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

Ten years ago people in the Seeley Lake area who were tired of constant fighting over logging and other uses of public lands in Montana got together to try to come up with a new, better way of resolving conflicts. They came up with something called the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, designed to improve the health of local forests, and at the same time keep local timber jobs. The agreement also got consensus on protecting additional land as Wilderness. Wednesday evening, members of the Project are getting together in Missoula to celebrate their accomplishments over the decade. We talked about it with Zack Porter, a field director for the Montana Wilderness Association.