HAMILTON — The Bitterroot National Forest is planning to begin spring-prescribed burning projects as early as next week.
Forest spokesman Tod McKay says that "pending favorable conditions, underburning operations could begin" on March 31 on the Darby/Sula Ranger District near Sula. Underburning, a type of prescribed fire treatment, ignites vegetation under the forest canopy or in open grassy meadows and focuses on the consumption of surface fuels.
Over the next two months, the Bitterroot National Forest is planning to implement numerous prescribed burning projects, according to a news release. The timing of the burns will be dependent on favorable weather conditions and good smoke dispersion.
“Our prescribed fire program is a targeted approach to meet the goals set forth in the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy,” said Matt Young, Fuels Fire Management Officer. “Those goals include working collaboratively with stakeholders across all jurisdictions to produce resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities, and safe and effective wildfire response.”
Spring prescribed fire activities normally take place in April and May and burning is highly weather and fuels dependent. Fire managers plan to burn a total of approximately 4,500 acres this spring.
Smoke will likely be visible from West Fork Highway, East Fork Road, or Highway 93.
Treatment areas include:
Darby/Sula Ranger District – 2,300 acres are planned:
- Waddell Units, south of Lake Como
- Como/Horse Lick, south of Lost Horse and north of Lake Como
- Trapper Bunkhouse, SW of Darby between Little Tin Cup & McCoy Creeks
- Cameron Blue and Middle East Fork, along East Fork road near Guide Creek and Tolan Ridge
- Sula Ranger Station, horse pasture and ditches
West Fork Ranger District – 1,200 acres are planned:
- Lower West Fork Units, south of Trapper Creek and north of Lloyd Creek
- School Point Ecoburn Units, west of Boulder Creek and east of Halford Creek
- Soda Springs Ecoburn, east of Little West Fork, west of Halford Creek along Forest Road 5633B
- Frazier Interface, south of Pierce Creek and north of Baker Creek
- Horse Pasture north of confluence of Nez Perce Fork & West Fork Rivers at Lone Pine Helibase
Stevensville Ranger District – 1,000 acres are planned:
- Larry Bass Units, within the Bass Creek Recreation Area north of Stevensville
- Sweeney Creek Units, west of Florence
- Three Saddle Units, Sapphire Mountains east of Stevensville
The burns will only be ignited if operational safety, fuel moisture, weather conditions, and air quality parameters can be attained, according to the Bitterroot National Forest. Fire crews will monitor all burns after ignition to ensure that they stay within prescribed boundaries until declared out.
Low and moderate intensity prescribed fires have several objectives including:
- Improve wildlife habitat – many plants respond favorably to fire providing new food sprouts for wildlife.
- Reduce the potential of large, high intensity wildfires by reducing the amount of downed fuel to burn.
- Post-harvest slash treatment – reduce residual slash created by thinning operations and personal use firewood cutting.
Recreationists are asked to be aware of fire crews and vehicles in these areas. The public is also asked to avoid traveling in prescribed burn units while crews are present, as well as trails and roads directly adjacent to the units.