As a professional forester, I’m encouraged to see the Missoula County commissioners address the issue of reducing wildfire risk near our community. The commissioners are updating the Community Wildfire Protection Plan and invited Dr. Mark Finney to provide insight on how best to proceed.
Finney showed how returning low-intensity controlled fire to our forests can reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. Uncontrolled wildfire in extreme conditions can have devastating impacts on air quality, wildlife habitat, watersheds and homes.
But Finney says many of our forests are too dense to use “prescribed” fire without first reducing forest fuels through thinning operations. Montana is in the enviable position of having an integrated forest products industry to assist. Professional foresters can design projects, trained loggers with expertise and mechanical equipment are available to do the work, and markets exist to sell forest products and offset treatment costs.
Compare this to the city of Flagstaff, Arizona. Five years ago voters approved a $10 million bond to thin forests around the community. Lacking a forest products industry, the money is gone and the work is incomplete.
Missoula is poised to tackle wildfire risks near our community. Let’s support the commissioners in their efforts.