Elk NetworkRMEF, Partners Team Up for Montana Forest Habitat Project

General | January 26, 2022

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is part of a collaborative effort with the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect communities from wildfires, improve water quality and restore forest ecosystems on public and private lands. The BNF and NRCS received the USDA’s Joint Chiefs Landscape Partnership Award enabling it to carry out the project in western Montana.

“We are excited to begin this important project in partnership with NRCS,” said Matt Anderson, Bitterroot Forest supervisor. “It will enable us to work across boundaries to improve forest health and wildlife habitat, reduce fire risk to communities, provide for public and firefighter safety, and contribute to community viability with forest products and jobs. This project includes the right work, in the right place, at the right scale.”

The three-year project and associated funding for public and private lands will support Fire Adapted Bitterroot (FAB), which seeks to address forest health concerns and reduce wildfire threats to communities and landowners in Ravalli County.  The project will actively treat more 10,000 acres of overstocked National Forest lands that border private property or are near homes.

“We’re trying to do the work before we have another Roaring Lion with a fire that comes ripping off the forest and onto private (land),” Tod McKay, BNF spokesperson, told the Ravalli Republic. “If we can treat our side and private landowners can treat their side, we think we could have an impact on slowing fires down and getting them to drop to ground like what we saw on private lands in Roaring Lion.”

According to the Ravalli Republic, the Roaring Lion fire burned nearly 9,000 acres, destroyed 16 homes and 49 outbuildings while costing $11 million to contain in 2016.

Fuel reduction efforts will include prescribed fire, non-commercial thinning, and commercial timber harvests to effectively treat fuels at the landscape scale. Much of the work will occur in the wildland urban interface, the private lands where homes adjoin or intersect with the forest. Unprecedented growth and new home construction that extends to the boundary of the forest highlights the need for action across all ownerships.

RMEF is a long-time advocate of prescribed burns that improve habitat for elk and other wildlife while lessening the potential of catastrophic fire and improving overall forest health.

(Photo credit:  Bitterroot National Forest)