Montana Public Radio

U.S. Forest Service

Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

Map of "Priority Landscapes" for forest management projects on the Lolo National Forest.
Lolo National Forest

Two proposed logging projects in the Seeley Lake area are the latest in a statewide push towards more use of a collaborative federal and state timber harvest program.

The Lolo National Forest wants to partner with the State of Montana on a pair of so-called Good Neighbor Authority projects to log about 5,000 acres of Forest Service land near Seeley Lake.

(L to R) Forest Service Fire Scientist Mark Finney, Missoula District Ranger Jennifer Hensiek, Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, at a Missoula City Club meeting, focused on wild fire, June 10, 2019.
Edward O'Brien / Montana Public Radio

It’s going to take fire — and a lot of it — to fight wildfire in the Missoula Valley, where it is and always has been part of the landscape. Experts say it’s also going to take more prescribed burning, new levels of government agency coordination and new layers of government regulation to make a difference.

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is warning that a billion acres of land across America are at risk of catastrophic wildfires like last fall's deadly Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, Calif.

Greeting on the road into the Anaconda Job Corps
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

UPDATE: This story has been updated, adding comments from Senator Jon Tester and Governor Steve Bullock.

Republican Senator Steve Daines says President Trump will overturn the closure of the Anaconda Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center.

"There were literally some tears shed and cheering. This is some great news for Anaconda and Anaconda needs good news," Daines said on a press call Monday.

"Good Neighbor Authority" allows states and tribes to help the Forest Service with projects on national forest land. The Taylor Hellroaring project near Whitefish is one such project.
U.S. Forest Service

Public comment ends this week on a Forest Service project near Whitefish which proposes to use so-called “good neighbor authority” to collaborate with the State of Montana. It’s a new approach that could mark a shift in which parties get a say in managing national forests.

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

Here’s a riddle: When is a wildland firefighter not technically a firefighter? Answer: When he or she works for the federal government.

That’s because the feds designate them as "forestry technicians." That irks many firefighters who put it all on the line as a changing climate means wildfire seasons are now longer and fires burn bigger and hotter.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen vows the agency will meet with mountain biking groups who want to regain access to two wilderness study areas in the Bitterroot National Forest.
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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines continues to pressure the U.S. Forest Service to reconsider proposed mountain bike closures in two Montana wilderness sudy areas.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen vows the agency will meet with mountain biking groups who want to regain access to two wilderness study areas in the Bitterroot National Forest.

Canada lynx.
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The timber industry, land managers and environmentalists are at loggerheads in lynx country. Canada lynx have been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act since 2000, they’re at the heart of legal battles over forest management; and in 2017, Montana politicians blamed a lawsuit over lynx protection for the 18,000-acre Park Creek Fire outside Lincoln, along with other blazes across the state.

Montana Residents Say Bison Hunts Near Yellowstone Unsafe

Apr 25, 2019
Bison
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BEATTIE GULCH, Mont. (AP) — The scavenger-cleaned bison carcass scattered across the grassland provided the perfect punctuation point for Nathan Varley.

Varley was lobbying a group of officials Wednesday to modify how the winter bison hunt is conducted in the Gardiner Basin, just north of Yellowstone National Park. The hunter-killed bison bones, fur and offal emphasized his argument: hunts are being conducted close to nearby residences.

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