The National Forest Foundation’s main office is in Missoula, Montana, a community surrounded by forested lands, including the Lolo National Forest. Like many towns and cities similarly situated, wildfire is a large topic of conversation for local residents, particularly at this time of year – How is our snowpack looking? What are the fire forecasts for the summer? Will we have smoke like 2017 (or 2007, 2003, 2000, etc.)?
Modeling completed for the Lolo National Forest Risk Assessment (2016) and the Missoula County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (2018) found the risk of wildfire in the WAM project area ranges from high to very high on 177,000 acres, moderate on 50,000 acres, and is low on just 27,000 acres. The Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest is planning a landscape-scale fuel reduction and forest resiliency project called Wildfire Adapted Missoula. This approach will be a significant change from the small-scale projects of the last twenty years on the District. Project activities will likely include thinning, invasive weed treatments, and prescribed fire.
In anticipation of the formal analysis and public comment process in the fall of 2019, District Ranger Jen Hensiek asked the National Forest Foundation to assist the Forest Service in convening discussions with neighborhood residents, non-governmental organizations, community leaders, the local fire leadership, businesses, and the media. These “Learning Labs”—set to take place through the spring and summer of 2019—aim to improve community understanding that we live in a fire adapted landscape, meaning fire is a normal part of this place. The Learning Labs also provide opportunities to share why uncharacteristically severe wildfire has become a regular part of our summers in the 21st century, as well as strategies to reduce fire risk and improve forest resiliency and natural patterns.
In a public kick-off of Wildfire Adapted Missoula, on April 3 a panel including Colin Hardy (retired Forest Service researcher), Jen Hensiek (Missoula District Ranger) and Karen DiBari of the NFF presented to a joint meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Missoula City Council, and the Mayor.
After the presentation, Missoula’s City and County leaders signed a Proclamation in support of reducing the risk of rapid spread of wildfire on 454,000 acres surrounding Missoula, including Lolo National Forest, private, state, tribal, city and county lands. The Proclamation expresses strong support for Missoula positioning itself as a leader in landscape resiliency by preparing citizens to safely coexist with wildland fire, both within the city and home environment, and also in the surrounding ecosystem.
The Missoula Ranger District recently was awarded a multi-million dollar grant through the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Project to begin implementing the Wildfire Adapted Missoula project over the next three years. We look forward to engaging with our community as we join cities and towns across the country in helping our forests get back into their natural fire cycles and reduce the likelihood or severity of unchacteristic wildfire.