Montana: Kootenai Creek fire

The Ravalli Republic has an interesting article about the Kootenai Creek fire 7 miles northwest of Stevensville, Montana and fire management in general in rural Montana. Read the whole article HERE, but below are some highlights:
FLORENCE – The scars buried deep inside the slice of Ponderosa Pine tell a story about fire on the landscape. Steve Arno – one of this country’s premier fire ecologists – cut down the smallish pine in 1973 on land he owns on the Bitterroot Valley’s west side just above Florence.

The telltale growth rings that mark each year of growth were scarred black by fire in 1919 and then again in the late 1920s and once more in the 1930s. And then fire disappeared from this piece of land. Arno guesses it was casual burning by the landowner – perhaps to create browse for domestic sheep – that scarred the pine tree.

ponderosa pine fireThat man-made fire and the natural burning that came before created the park-like Ponderosa Pine forest that settlers found when they first came to the Bitterroot Valley. Their journals are filled with accounts of galloping horseback through the towering trees.

By the time Arno moved there, the forest was choked with spindly trees and brush. For decades now, Arno worked to recreate that natural forest on his own acreage. Just up the road, fellow longtime forest researcher, Clint Carlson, did the same. The trees on their properties are spaced far enough apart that it’s doubtful fire could ever get up and travel through the crowns. Every few years, they light small ground fires that keep fuels at manageable levels.

“We burned over 1,000 piles of slash on our 90 acres,” Carlson said. “We worked really, really had to make our property safe.”

Both men know their places are ready should a wildfire come to visit.


“It used to be that a firefighter getting killed here and there was just one of those unfortunate collateral damage kind of things,” Arno said. “It isn’t that way any more and it shouldn’t be. That’s just not acceptable.”


And those who choose to live in the forested wildland/urban interface need to prepare their properties for the inevitable.

“People shouldn’t expect the State of Montana or the Forest Service to protect them from fire if they live in the wildland/urban interface,” Carlson said. “People need to be responsible and prepare for a potential wildfire.

“The saw cuts both ways,” he said. “Many people who move here want to be independent and free to do whatever they want. They better be ready to accept the consequences if they choose to do nothing to prepare their property for wildfire.”

Because one thing is for certain, both men agree – fire is here to stay.

“Living here without any expectation of fire is like living in West Yellowstone and complaining that it gets cold,” Arno said.

Thanks Kelly


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