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USDA offers cost-share for fuel reduction on east side of Bitterroot

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USDA offers cost-share for fuel reduction on east side of Bitterroot

The NRSC Hamilton Office has two years remaining on a EQIP forest health improvement project that provides private landowners with cost-share funding to pay for improving forest stands and reducing woody residue. 

After a tinder-dry summer and critical fire weather days pushing into September, some folks who own forested land may be wondering what they can do to reduce the fire danger on their property.

Those landowners living on the east side of the Bitterroot Valley from Sleeping Child drainage north to the county line can find some help in both the planning and paying for fuel reduction work from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

NRCS District Conservationist Stacy Welling said that opportunity won’t last forever.

The NRCS Hamilton Office has two years remaining on an Environmental Quality Incentive Program forest health improvement project on the east side of the valley that offers cost-share assistance to help landowners pay for improving forest stands and reducing wood residue.

After receiving the go-ahead in 2020, Welling said the Hamilton NRCS office held some meetings and sent out mailers to landowners in the prioritized area. In the first two years, landowners have contracted to have 2,425 acres treated, with the government kicking in $755,000 in cost-share funding.

She’s hoping more will step forward to take advantage of the program.

Landowners interested in the program are required to fill out a simple 2-page application.

“The application process is not that complicated,” Welling said. “Once the application is received, the NRCS staff then goes out to the property to do an inventory of the forested area. We identify disease and stocking issues and then work with the landowners to develop a prescription for the property.”

The applications are then ranked before the funding is awarded.

Last year the deadline for submitting applications was in November. Welling said this year’s deadline hasn’t been set, but she expects that it will be similar.

All of the applications are assessed and ranked over the winter. The projects selected for funding are announced in the spring. Once a contract is in place, Welling said they like to see the projects completed in three years, but there is some latitude to add a couple more years if landowners need the time.

Cost-share payments are available for two types of forest treatments.

A Forest Stand Improvement project can be used for several treatment options such as pre-commercial thinning that increases tree spacing by removing smaller diameter trees; sanitation harvests for stands with substantial insects and disease outbreaks; and combinations of the two.

A Woody Residue Treatment involves the reduction or elimination of slash generated by forest stand improvement projects. Options for addressing the slash can run the gamut from scattering it along the ground, chipping and shredding it, or piling and burning.

The cost-share can pay as much as $900 to $1,000 per acre for pre-commercial thinning and wood residue reduction.

“There are a lot of variables on how much the work costs per acre,” Welling said. “It’s a pretty good cost-share rate. With the kind of fire season that we’ve had this year, the issue of reducing fuel may be high on people’s minds. The financial part can be difficult for people. This is one of the ways they can make it work.”

For more information on how to apply and compete for an NRCS EQIP forest health improvement project, please contact the NRCS Hamilton Field Office at 406-361-6186.

Ravalli County farmers and ranchers who have been impacted by this year’s drought can also find some help through the USDA.

The county was recently added to the long list of Montana counties designated as primary natural disaster areas due to drought.

The designation allows the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to extend emergency credit to producers recovering from natural disasters through an emergency loan. The loans can be used to replace essential items like equipment or livestock, reorganize a farming operation or refinance certain debts.

The Farm Service Agency reviews the loan applications based on the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. Application deadlines are April 11, 2022.

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