Bucksnort Fire, 2000, Photo credit Helena IR
Bucksnort Fire, 2000, Photo credit Helena IR

Over the years the Conservation District has witnessed many fires in the county, most notably the 1988, 1994 and 2000 fire years.  

With increasing development in the county, many people are moving into what is known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), especially in the Helena, Lincoln and Wolf Creek areas.  These areas are historically forested land, and as development moves into them, the normal pattern of small fires periodically moving through the area stops, leading to increased growth of understory brush and small trees.  This increases the potential for catastrophic fire, loss of homes and some pretty high costs of recovery with losses of homes and other property.  Cost of fighting fires in the WUI is increased too, with firefighters having to work among homes and other outbuildings, often on roads that are too steep or narrow to adequately access with the large fire trucks, and often the lack of clear road layouts.

Photo credit MTN News
Photo credit MTN News

So how can the Conservation District help?  

We work cooperatively with several agencies, including:

  • Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)
  • Lewis & Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services (DES)
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • US Forest Service
  • Tri-County Firesafe Working Group

We work with these agencies during and after fires, assisting private landowners with recovery efforts such as re-seeding, weed control, clean up and preparation for the increased risk of flooding.  We also work with these agencies between fire years, trying to assist private landowners with proper forestry management so that when a fire does move through their property, they are prepared and have a better chance of not losing their homes.

Each agency has specific goals and missions:  

The US Forest Service and BLM largely work solely on their own lands, not traditionally interacting so much with private landowners.  But since so much of their land is adjacent to private land, their management projects impact private land.

DNRC has a Forestry Assistance Bureau that works with private landowners helping them to manage forest health.  

NRCS has a number of practices within programs that will assist landowners with creating fuel breaks and also assists with forest health on private lands.  

Tri-County Firesafe Working Group works with private landowners, helping them to assess their risk, giving information on creating defensible space and mapping the area to ascertain highest risk areas.

DES comes into play primarily during events such as floods and fires, but they are also part of the Local Emergency Preparedness Committee which meets monthly to help plan and coordinate responses to all hazards in the county.

If you–or someone you know–needs information or assistance with forest management concerns, please feel free to give us a call and we’ll try to get you in touch with the appropriate agency.