Missoula County approves landmark fire protection plan

Posted at 8:28 AM, May 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-31 10:28:59-04

MISSOULA – There’s no way to completely stop the threat of wildfire but Missoula County leaders and their partners in forest management and public safety are hoping they’ve come up with a way for the county and its residents to at least have a fighting chance.

Missoula County had planned to update the 2005 Community Fire Protection Plan before last fire season. But the delay in getting the final document written actually turned out to be fortuitous, because 2017 was one of the worst fire seasons the Missoula area has seen in decades, with most of the state’s largest fires burning within county boundaries.

Once the smoke cleared, that gave the county and its partner agencies invaluable data which was then folded into the CFPP update and now, county commissioners have adopted the plan, a step which brought them immediate praise from partners including private foresters, Montana DNRC and the US Forest Service.

"Identification of potential resources for funding and mitigation activities and the increase of our community awareness and important discussions around risk reduction for our residents and our emergency responders," said Lolo National Forest District Ranger Jennifer Hensiek.

"I just wanted to share that deep gratitude from the National Forest Service, working with our local leaders like Jen, with our state partners like the DNRC. And I also want to thank you as a citizen," added USFS Northern Rockies Deputy Regional Forester Jane Darnell.

The plan is seen as a model for other communities in the West that are coping with hotter, larger and more intense fires. It sets out objectives to build more "fire wise" communities, taking fire risk into account for planning and infrastructure development, especially in areas like Seeley Lake, and "less restrictive" measures to allow for logging and fuels reduction on steeper slopes.

Oftentimes local governments have a difficult time implementing action plans. But county commissioners say that won’t be the case with the Community Fire Protection Plan. In fact, the county is going to hire a specific person to oversee the plan and make sure that it’s put to use.

"I really can’t say enough thank yous to everyone who has worked diligently on this. And I look forward to making sure that this plan does not just gather dust on the shelf, but actually is implemented and is a living document," said Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

County leaders say they’ll also continue looking at other refinements to amend the plan, such as more specific language dealing with grass fires and wildlife habitat.