HELENA — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told a room full of foresters and landowners Friday that federal land managers could learn some important lessons from the state when it comes to timber.
Bullock noted that 19 governors from Western states sent a letter this week to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him to expand public/private partnerships to lessen environmental stresses on federal forested lands throughout the West.
“We didn’t pull any punches,” Bullock told about 170 people at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel in Helena. “We said that our forests are overgrown and exhibit all the symptoms of an unhealthy ecosystem and demand immediate attention.”
He added that as governor, he often flies over Montana, and is overwhelmed by the sight of dead and dying trees killed during the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic. He said the urgency the governors tried to convey to Vilsack is all too apparent from the air.
“As forest stewards and landowners, it’s hard to witness acre upon acre of dying forests from the massive infestation of mountain pine beetle,” Bullock said. “If the drought conditions persist I think we can count on a fifth season, which will be the fire season.”
His comments were made at the 2013 Montana Forest Landowner and Montana Society of American Foresters Joint Conference, which concludes today with a field trip to see roadside fuel reduction projects. The main theme of presentations at Friday’s day-long event was how to manage Montana’s forested lands for resiliency.
Bullock said the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is doing a great job, harvesting about 200 billion board feet of timber from state lands during the past four years. But he noted that he’s had two front-row seats in his life to large fires.
The first was when he was a tour boat operator for the Gates of the Mountains cruises, and had to take one of the crafts into the middle of Holter Lake as the surrounding mountains were consumed by flames. The second time was last year, when as attorney general Bullock watched in horror as the Corral Fire raced through the Scratchgravel Hills near Helena’s northwest border.
“It was literally right to the edge of town, which is not surprising since the trends are for a hotter and drier climate and more forests are impacted by insects and wildfires,” Bullock said. “It’s not just in rural areas but in both urban and rural areas, and we have to be concerned about both safety and economic impacts.”
He said forests need to be managed for multiple uses, including world-class wildlife habitat, great recreation opportunities, clean and abundant water and timber harvests. He pledged that as chairman of the State Land Board, he would encourage continued sustainable management.
“Our federal partners could learn a lot from our efforts at the state level,” Bullock said. “Congressional action is needed and we are ready to work with the stockholders and congressional delegation to make that happen. It’s important that we work with a shared vision for the future of Montana forests.”