U.S. Forest Service

Historically the beneficiaries of Forest Service lands often disagree about how they should be used. Should we increase or decrease timber harvest and why. Open more roads or close some we put it in in past years? Add Wilderness or not? The hot seat for many of those issues is the Regional Forester in Region One based in Missoula Montana. Leanne Marten is the guest on "Home Ground" this week.

The Solenex well site in the Badger-Two Medicine
Corin Cates-Carney

A U.S. District Court judge today gave the federal government until November 23 to decide whether a Louisiana company can drill for oil and gas on National Forest land in the Badger Two-Medicine area adjacent to Glacier National Park.

A Neptune Aviation next-generation air tanker drops retardant on a fire
Jonah Curtin/Neptune Aviation

Missoula’s Neptune Aviation has won the largest of three contracts to supply next-generation air tankers to the U.S. Forest Service to fight fires.

A crew working in the Bob Marshall Wilderness rebuilds a main line trail that was damaged during a fire this summer.
Corin Cates-Carney

Hunting and fishing licenses generate about $48 million a year in Montana, and 70 percent of that revenue comes from people from out of state. But this year some of those hunters and fishers had to cancel their trips because of the intense fire season. And that makes it tough on the businesses that serve them.

Members of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation hear comments on proposed drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine area in Choteau, MT Sept. 2, 2015
Corin Cates-Carney

The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation held a meeting in Choteau Wednesday evening on proposed drilling on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area. The council is trying to understand how and if the exploration for natural gas can comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Map of Solenex Lease site in the Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park
Courtesy Montana Wilderness Association

Wednesday brings another round in the decades-long fight over whether to allow energy development on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area just south of the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.

Eric Whitney

The U.S. Forest Service team leading the attack on the West Fork Fish Creek Fire southwest of Alberton had a public information meeting in Alberton last night, and more than 200 people came. So many people came, they had to open the big garage doors at the fire station to accommodate the crowd.

Gov. Bullock is hopeful upcoming talks will help clear the way to allowing Montana DNRC helicopters to work fires on federal lands.

It looks like there may be progress in the dispute between Montana and the U.S. Forest Service over firefighting helicopters.

A helicopter on initial attack on the Burke Gulch fire this week, one of 40 lightning-caused wildfires crews have contained since Aug. 10.
Courtesy Cory Rennaker Bitterroot Helitack

Governor Steve Bullock sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service today saying he’s frustrated that Montana’s fleet of firefighting helicopters often can’t be used to attack fires on federal land.

The BlueSky Daily Runs animated map predicts the location of wildfire smoke.
U.S. Forest Service

Wondering where you can go to get away from the smoke? This animated map from the Forest Service predicts where smoke from wildfires will be concentrated.

Fifteen miles outside the town of Lincoln, members of several "constitutionalist" groups including the "Oath Keepers" say they’ve helped prevent a confrontation between several miners and the U.S. Forest Service. The Lincoln County Sheriff contends there was no risk of a confrontation to start with.

The Federal government is suing the owners of a mine near Lincoln, where members of the "Oath Keepers" group have gathered.

U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter filed the civil suit in federal court in Helena Tuesday. The complaint claims George Kornec and Philip Nappo, owners of the White Hope Mine, have blocked access to public lands, by illegally opening a road, cutting down trees, and building a garage on the site. 

What's the connection between poachers killing African elephants, and promoting tourism in Seeley Lake, Montana? Find out in this episode of "Home Ground Radio".
Flickr user Bitterroot (CC-BY-ND-2)

What's the connection between poachers killing African elephants, and promoting tourism in Seeley Lake, Montana? Find out in this episode of "Home Ground Radio".

The Forest Service is now spending over half of its budget on fighting fires.

The Forest Service says there has to be a change in how wildfire fighting is paid for. Here's why: The agency's total annual budget amounts to a bit over $5 billion. Now, for the first time in its history, just over half its budget is earmarked exclusively to fight fire.

The Forest Service says it's now spending over half of its total budget suppressing wildfires. That's the first time that's happened in the agency's 110-year history.

Bull trout.
Joel Sartore National Geographic & Wade Fredenberg USFWS (CC-BY-2.0)

A copper and silver mine for northwest Montana appears one step closer to approval and this worries Mary Costello.

Map of Solenex Lease site in the Badger-Two Medicine near Glacier National Park
Courtesy Montana Wilderness Association

A federal judge has given Interior Secretary Sally Jewell three weeks to take action on a Louisiana company’s natural gas leases near Glacier National Park that have been held up for 29 years.

Cabin Gulch Fire 07-22-15
Courtesy Inciweb

From Front Street in Townsend, it’s hard to tell there’s a fire, except for the occasional fire engine and the unusual traffic around the Forest Service Office. But drive a few miles out of town on highway 12, and you soon find a landscape dominated by blackened and smoldering trees. No flames are visible from the highway, but Forest Service public information officer Marvin Carpenter says only a fraction of the fire has been put out.

Smokejumpers before a jump in 1968. Jim Phillips is first from the left.
Courtesy Jim Phillips

Helena's Jim Phillips clearly remembers the hot, dry, stormy summer of 1967. Wildfires were popping up across the west that year. That also happened to be Phillips' first year as a smokejumper.

Now, Phillips is organizing the 75th anniversary reunion for the smokejumper program. He spoke with MTPR's Edward O'Brien about the reunion, and the work smokejumpers do.

Emigrant Peak, near the area of the proposed mine exploration
Flickr user Sean Wolf (CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0)

Caroline Byrd describes south-central Montana's scenic Emigrant Gulch in the Paradise Valley as Yellowstone National Park's "northern backdoor".

"It's got wildlife. It's got water. It's got scenic beauty and it's got real ecological importance for keeping the whole place knit together," says Byrd.

Byrd, the executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says that's no place for a mine.

U.S. Capitol building.
Flickr user Tim McKee (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The U.S. House has passed legislation designed to improve the health of national forests by scaling back the environmental reviews that go into some timber projects, and making it harder to file lawsuits that delay thinning projects.

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke is co-sponsoring the bill.

Sen. Daines and other officials on a tour of the Tenmile watershed.
Steve Jess

Montana Senator Steve Daines toured a beetle-infested area of the Helena National Forest Tuesday, and praised a joint federal-state effort to reduce fire danger. 

Neptune Aviation air tanker drops retardant on a fire
Steve Whitby/Neptune Aviation

A contract dispute has created uncertainty and potential lost revenue for the companies that supply firefighting air tankers, including Missoula’s Neptune Aviation.

The conflict is over long-term contracts for jet engine, so-called "next generation" planes that bring more to the table than the Korean War-era prop-driven tankers firefighters have been using for decades.

A Neptune Aviation next-generation air tanker drops retardant on a fire
Jonah Curtin/Neptune Aviation

The U.S. Forest Service could have fewer firefighting air tankers than it originally planned for this fire season. The agency hoped to contract for up to seven more so-called "next generation" jet-powered firefighting air tankers. But two out-of-state air tanker companies filed protests over how the agency solicited aircraft contractors.

Forest Service Predicts Above-Average Fire Season For Western U.S.

Jun 9, 2015
File photo of fire fighters building fire line.
BLM (CC-BY-2.0)

The Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and the U.S. Forest Service chief expect above average wildfire activity this year, especially across the Western U.S.

The three held a telephone briefing with reporters yesterday afternoon on the upcoming 2015 wildfire season.

Rep. Ryan Zinke. File photo.
Eric Whitney

Congressman Ryan Zinke has introduced a forest management reform bill that he says would prevent unnecessary litigation, improve forest health and help prevent wildfires.

At least one Montana environmental organization says it would instead be a waste of federal tax dollars.

Forest Service helicopter crews practicing medical evacuation west of Missoula, MT.
Lane Lamoreaux (PD)

Two Forest Service helicopter crews are practicing medical evacuation maneuvers this week west of Missoula.

The teams are training for "Emergency Medical Short-Haul" missions.

From Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies, by Frederick H. Swanson ($24.95 softcover, ©2015 University of Utah Press)

House Approves Bill Requesting Payment From Feds For Public Land Sales

Apr 10, 2015
Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R) SD7
Montana Legislature

Today at the Montana Legislature, state Representatives voted to pass a bill that would request that the federal government pay Montana five percent of all public land sales.

Senate Bill 298’s sponsor, Republican Senator Jennifer Fielder says that because the Forest Service split from the Department of the Interior, Montanans haven’t been getting their cut of the land sales because the federal government only monitors Department of Interior sales.

F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, MT
Eric Whitney

We’re continuing our series of interviews on the new management plan for the Flathead National Forest. We’ve heard from the Forest Service and the Montana Wilderness Association so far. This time we’re talking to a prominent timber company executive.

Paul McKenzie is the lands and resource manager at F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls. I spoke to him in his office.