US Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, through Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, are working on fuels treatments in Flathead National Forest to protect against wildfires, restore ecosystems on public and private lands

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KALISPELL, Montana , February 2, 2022 (press release) –

The Flathead National Forest (FNF) and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Kalispell field office have been awarded the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership for the proposal Connecting Fuels Treatments in the Salish Mountains and Whitefish Range. The award was recently announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, the Forest Service and NRCS are working together to protect communities from wildfires and restore forest ecosystems on public and private lands.

The majority of this project area was identified as part of the priority areas for focused attention on fuels reduction in the 2020 Montana Forest Action Plan as well as being identified as a High-Risk Fireshed in the newly released strategy Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests.

This proposal was developed largely through collaboration with the FireSafe Flathead group comprised of the NRCS, FNF, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), Flathead County, Northwest Montana Hazardous Fuels Program, and the National Forest Foundation.

“Many partners across Montana have been collaborating for improved forest health and reduced wildfire risk. The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership is one more piece in that puzzle,” said Tom Watson, NRCS State Conservationist for Montana. “Together, we are overcoming the boundaries between private and public lands to enhance the resilience of our forests, communities, water supplies, and working lands. These Joint Chiefs’ projects are excellent examples of how agencies can work together and use targeted funding to achieve dramatic conservation improvements that benefit natural resources, build drought resiliency and address the climate crisis.”

Flathead National Forest Supervisor, Kurt Steele added “This award is a reflection of the outstanding working relationships amongst all of our valued partners and their commitment to get work done in priority areas in an all-lands approach. As we continue to see increases in homes being built in the greater Flathead Valley area it is important to come together as a community to find solutions and provide education through services like these. Through implementation of this project, we can improve landscape level fuel conditions in this area to improve our firefighters’ chance of success.”

The project looks to connect 25 miles of cross boundary fuel reduction treatments within the wildland urban interface (WUI) over the next three years along the west and north sides of the Flathead Valley stretching from the Foy’s Lake area to the Whitefish Divide. The 4,230 acres approved through this project will complement approximately 22,000 acres of fuels reduction already implemented throughout the past ten years by the FNF, NRCS, and Northwest Montana Hazardous Fuels Program. The NRCS and FNF will work to coordinate fuels reduction opportunities with Flathead County and our state and private forestry partners on lands of all ownerships within the identified project area.

“The Montana DNRC is excited to continue work with local partners in implementation of the Connecting Fuels Treatments in the Salish Mountains and Whitefish Range project, a project that targets priority areas identified in the Montana Forest Action Plan and connects past and future forest management across boundaries,” said Greg Poncin, Area Manager for DNRC’s Northwest Land Office. “This work will truly make a difference to decrease wildfire risk and protect communities, while improving forest health and supporting the local economy.”

Beyond protecting homes from wildfire, protection of critical infrastructure would include the Whitefish municipal watershed, rural schools, a powerline corridor, railroad, Whitefish Mountain Resort, and communication sites. Benefits include creating and improving evacuation routes for the safety of residents and responders, enhancing forest health, and increasing wildfire resilience. Implementation will create conditions where response resources will be safer and more effective in the management of wildfire. It will also allow for increased outreach and education efforts for the community including benefits of treating immediately adjacent to structures and home construction and landscaping tips.

Lincoln Chute, Flathead Country Fire Service Area Manager, added “Flathead County, Flathead County Parks, and Flathead County OES support this project and believe that through community outreach this project will help educate citizens on the advantages of forest management, while assisting in mitigating wildfire intensity.”

To learn more about Connecting Fuels Treatments in the Salish Mountains and Whitefish Range and other Joint Chiefs’ projects click here.

For additional information please contact Rick Connell, FNF Fire Staff Officer, at richard.connell@usda.gov or (406) 758-5261; or Sean Johnson, NRCS Supervisory District Conservationist, at sean.johnson@usda.gov or (406) 752-4242 ext. 3318.

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