Montana Public Radio

wildfire

A National Forest Service fire danger sign.
Courtesy: Bitterroot National Forest

Consider it the unofficial start of the summer wildfire season in the Bitterroot Valley. Fire danger on the Bitterroot National Forest was raised up a notch Wednesday, going from “Low” to “Moderate."

Moderate fire dangers means a fire can start from most accidental causes. Fires started under these conditions in open, dry grasslands can quickly take off, while timber fires spread more slowly and are easier to control.

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.

When Timothy Ingalsbee thinks back on his days in the 1980s and '90s fighting wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, he remembers the adventure of jumping out of a helicopter into the wilderness, and the camaraderie of being on a fire crew.

"We just slept in a heap," he says, "on the ground under the stars, or smoke-filled skies."

But Ingalsbee, who went on to found the Eugene, Ore.-based Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, doesn't like to remember all that smoke.

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.

July Max/Min Temps and Precipitation.
Coleen Haskell/Michael Richmond - National Interagency Fire Center

Average fire conditions are expected throughout most of Montana this summer, according to analysis given to Gov. Steve Bullock during his annual pre-fire-season briefing today. However, fire officials warn that climate change is continuing to lengthen fire seasons throughout the West.

Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook July 2019.
Predictive Services - National Interagency Fire Center

Gov. Steve Bullock will get a briefing on Montana’s wildfire outlook Friday from a group of interagency fire partners. The governor’s annual fire season meeting delivers predictions on wildland fire potential and updates on the readiness of agencies to respond once fire breaks out.

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.

A firefighter carries a drip-torch during a previous controlled burn in the Bitterroot National Forest.
Bitterroot National Forest

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Land management agencies are underutilizing controlled burns to reduce wildfire threats in the western U.S., according to a wildfire study.

The University of Idaho study indicates the use of the intentionally set fires has decreased over the last two decades in the West while it has ramped up in southeastern states, The Lewiston Tribune reported Friday.

Montana air quality from 3-4 p.m., May 31, 2019.
Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Smoke from large wildfires Alberta drifted into more of Montana Friday, causing haze and air quality issues on both sides of the divide.

Air Quality Meteorologist Kristen Martin with Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality says today may be the worst for the state, at least for now.

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