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The National Forest Foundation’s main office is in Missoula, Montana, a community surrounded by forested lands, including the Lolo National Forest. Like many similarly situation towns and cities, wildfire is a large topic of conversation for local residents.
Intense and fast moving fires have become more frequent and can burden suppression resources and threaten residents and property. This trend is not likely to reverse itself and can put first responders and communities at risk, especially in areas where neighborhoods are next to a forest boundary. Wildfire management is complicated by the fact that many areas are comprised of a patchwork of land ownerships.
In an effort to address fire risk to communities, the Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest is working to develop an all lands focused fuels and forest resiliency project called Wildfire Adapted Missoula, or WAM. This approach will be a significant change from the small-scale projects of the last twenty years on the District. Project activities are likely to include thinning, invasive weed treatments, and prescribed fire.
In anticipation of the formal analysis and public comment process beginning in late 2019, the Missoula District asked the National Forest Foundation to assist in convening discussions with neighborhood residents, non-governmental organizations, community leaders, 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.
Karen DiBari, Conservation Connect Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org