Two Ravalli County fuel reduction projects were selected for funding through the revised Montana Forest Action Plan.
Gov. Greg Gianforte recently announced the 14 projects that were picked from a total of 47 submitted to the state. The projects selected ranged in size from 100 to 1,000 acres.
The state committed $4.5 million for the projects funded in this first cycle. It received $500,000 in grant funds from the USDA Forest Service.
The Montana Forest Action Plan came out of the 2008 Farm Bill, which required states to assess forest conditions within their boundaries regardless of ownership. Montana completed its first plan in 2010. Former Gov. Steve Bullock signed the updated plan just before he left office in December.
In Ravalli County, projects near Conner and east of Hamilton were selected for funding.
A $350,000 grant was awarded to the Piquette Creek Project that will thin 750 acres of national forest lands near the Triple Creek Ranch in the West Fork of the Bitterroot.
Darby District Ranger Seth Carbonari said Triple Creek Ranch has already completed a lot of fuel reduction on their property. This project will expand on both the work on private land and the estimated 3,000 acres the Bitterroot Forest had already planned to treat over the next decade.
The thinning will allow the Forest Service to work with the private landowners to use prescribed fire on both sides of the boundary lines.
“This is a great project,” Carbonari said. “We are very excited to be selected for funding through the Montana Forest Action Plan. This project really aligns well with the plan’s goals of working in high priority areas to reduce the risk of fire to local communities.”
The project is geared toward making the area more resilient from fire as well reduce infestations from insects and disease, he said.
“This is something that we still would have wanted to accomplish even without this source of funding,” he said. “It just would have pushed the timelines back four or five or six years. This makes it so we can get to those acres in a timely manner.”
The Gird Creek Stand Improvement and WUI Project will focus on a section of state trust land in the Skalkaho's Gird Creek drainage that foresters have wanted to treat for years, but a lack of access had made it too expensive to do so.
Initially, the land was part of the Buckhorn Good Neighbor Authority project that proposed thinning on both state and national forest lands. The GNA allows the state and Forest Service to partner on projects that benefit watersheds.
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation forester Thayer Jacques said the GNA project had to be reworked after no one bid due to the high cost of building a road to the lower section.
The Idaho Forest Group of St. Regis ended up purchasing the sale on the national forest land and the upper portion of state land. The $150,000 allocated through Montana Forest Action Plan will help offset costs of road building, tree planting, grass seeding and weed spraying on the lower end of the state trust lands.
“It’s been a section that people have wanted to get some work done for a while,” Jacques said. “The forest there is full of mistletoe. A fire would roar through there.”
Once the project is completed, it will help protect neighboring private landowners from severe wildland fire impacts while helping to improve forest health and wildlife habitat conditions.
“Ravalli County thanks Governor Gianforte and Director (Amanda) Kaster for prioritizing active forest management,” said Ravalli County commissioner and Montana Coalition of Forest Counties chair, Greg Chilcott. “These projects will enhance forest health, improve wildlife habitat, increase forest revenues, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and provide for the health and safety of the citizens living in our communities.”
The Nature Conservancy in Montana’s external affairs director, Mark Aagenes said the Montana Forest Action Plan was created by a willingness of diverse groups to come together to build a guiding document for careful cross-boundary, large-scale forest management in the state.
“With a nod towards working together, thanks go to Governor Bullock for establishing this effort and to Governor Gianforte for moving the funding forward and for recognizing the value of the program and these projects,” Aagenes said. “It’s great to see a good program, which helps both local communities and forest health, transcend both administrations.”