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New post-fire recovery plan implemented after devastating fire season

Firefighters fighting the Rice Ridge fire near Seeley Lake; Courtesy Inciweb

MISSOULA – The summer of 2017 brought one of the hottest and driest fire seasons on record in the Northern Rockies.

Regional Forester Leanne Marten saw the need for an accelerated approach to recover the post-fire landscape. The result is a Regional Post-Fire Response Incidence Management Team.

“The Regional Forester has established a team that’s patterned after an Incident Management Team that we would have during a fire, so that allows us to really be focused and to bring a lot of additional resources in, as opposed to being torn in multiple directions working on a number of different jobs,” says Northern Region Incident Commander Mike Elson.

More so than ever, the workload placed on the Forestry Department is enormous, and this 20-member team would go a long way toward alleviating that load, Elson said.

“We’re helping them with three things, in particular, the Burned-Area Emergency Response which is the immediate response to the most urgent issues after the fire, planning for salvage logging in those areas where it would be appropriate and also re-forestation assessment where the natural regeneration may not be adequate,” Elson said.

In addition, the team will bring a technological component: a computerized evaluation which zeroes-in on the areas in most need of work.

Specialists have been called in from across the country to help in the landscape recovery effort. Ultimately, the main focus has been on areas posing the greatest risks to human life and property such as flash-flooding.

“We’re really trying to balance the needs,” Elson said. “There’s a need to protect sensitive resources and there’s also a need to be responsive to communities who have been hit hard, economically.”

Elson says it is important that the community understand that they are continuously working to keep communities safe and restore the landscape to its natural state as quickly as possible.

The Region will be requesting approval for Emergency Situation Determinations to shorten the environmental analysis timeline and allow work on the ground to begin sooner.

MTN’s Russ Thomas