U.S. Forest Service

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 on the Mountain 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.

Neptune Aviation next-generation air tanker.
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.

U.S. National Interagency Fire Center

Montana's active wildfire season is just around the corner. Every single federal, state and local wildland firefighter assigned to fire duty is required to carry a fire shelter. They’re thin, silica-impregnated tents laminated with aluminum foil, and are proven lifesavers. Now, the Forest Service is working on making them even better.

Neptune Aviation air tanker on the Mountain Fire
Steve Whitby/Neptune Aviation

A Missoula aviation company is anxiously waiting to find out how many more of its air tankers will be dumping slurry on wildfires.

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is revising its forest plan for the first time since 1986. The plan lays out what is and isn’t possible on 2.4 million acres of federal land from Seeley Lake to the Canadian border.

Forest Service Northern Region

Growing out of forest restoration efforts around Helena, Montana, in 2014, a cooperative stewardship agreement between the state of Montana and the U. S. Forest Service was developed, the first of its kind in the United States.

Courtesy Timberline Resources

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit for an underground gold mine south of Butte Monday.

The permitting process for the Butte Highlands Mine started in 2010, and Timberline Resources, the Idaho-based company behind it has already been exploring on the privately owned site.

Kristi Ponozzo with Montana DEQ says the mining permit "includes modifications to the proposed action...for mining. Under that alternative we are requiring additional water quality monitoring."

Jim Peaco (CC-BY-2.0)

Yellowstone National Park has started capturing bison near the park's north entrance and bison advocates have sued to stop it.

Disease management and carrying capacity are at the center of the operation.

Park spokesman Al Nash says a total of 800 to 900 bison that migrate out of the park could be removed.

"We're doing so to be able to approach the target bison population and to see if we can reduce the potential for a mass-migration of bison into Montana where there is still some limited tolerance."

U.S. Forest Service Northern Region (CC-BY-2.0)

Sometimes the best things in life come from unexpected places. This was the case for Missoulian Dick Rothermel and his wife about 13 years ago when they stumbled across a modest cabin for sale on Seeley Lake-area Forest Service land.

Reynermedia.com (CC-BY-2.0)

Officials in 33 Montana counties are keenly aware of what's not in the trillion dollar federal spending bill to keep government open: an extension of the Secure Rural Schools, or SRS program, that Montana counties have relied on since 2000.

SRS funding is stripped out of the spending bill the House has been considering this week.

The SRS program was helps pay down school bonds and also funds road maintenance projects.

Mineral County Commissioner Laurie Johnston has a blunt assessment of the situation.

Bell & Jeff (CC-BY-2.0)

The U.S. Forest Service's Northern Region met its timber harvest goal last year. That’s the first time that has happened in over 14 years.

Regional Forester Faye Krueger says Region One, which includes Montana, harvested about 280 million board feet of timber.

Krueger says a major factor in the agency reaching its goal is that it's  overhauled its litigation strategy.

www.CGPGrey.com by/2.0

It was yet another expensive wildfire-fighting season, but early estimates indicate it won't be as spendy as some others in recent memory. Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers says preliminary estimates show the Forest Service went $200 million over budget this season. Congress authorized the agency to spend $995 million on fire suppression this fiscal year.  That's compared to about $3 billion in recent years. Forest Service Region One spokeswoman Heather Noel says we were lucky this year.

“Firewise” by Monte Dolack used by permission via Headwaters Economics

It’s estimated that at least 30 percent of the money the Forest Service and BLM spend on wildfires is spent to protect private property, like homes on the edge of public lands.

A new report from Headwaters Economics in Bozeman offers strategies to keep that number from growing.

Ray Rasker is Headwaters’ executive director, he spoke with Eric Whitney about the non-profit group's new report.

U.S. Forest Service issued a press release late Thursday to clarify the intent behind the proposed directive for commercial photography and filmmaking in Congressionally designated wilderness areas.

The Forest Service describes it as a good faith effort to ensure wilderness areas are protected.

Critics say it essentially gives the agency story-approval power.

Montana’s entire congressional delegation today called for the rule to be clarified and re-drafted.

The U.S. Forest Service has proposed  requiring permits for still photography and commercial filming in designated wilderness areas, making permanent an interim rule in place since 2010.

According to The Oregonian, permits would cost up to $1,500, with a $1,000 fine for failure to get a permit.

Montana's entire congressional delegation has written to the Forest Service expressing concerns with the proposal.

The Need For Comprehensive Federal Forest Reforms

Aug 19, 2014

There has been quite a bit of opinion writing lately about whether members of congress should focus on place-based federal forestland pilots, or whether they should work to pass comprehensive federal forest reforms.

On the one hand, place-based efforts are homegrown initiatives that carve out temporary solutions to meet local needs, while a comprehensive reform package offers sweeping changes that land managers, timber companies and timber-dependent communities can rely on for the long-term.

Well, it looks like the Forest Service has done it to themselves again.  By this I mean the recent Federal Register notice announcing the agency is undertaking the writing of national Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Water Quality Protection on National Forest System lands.

On the Ownership of Public Lands

Jun 25, 2014

Few topics in the West stir up controversy more quickly than public lands—those places all Americans own together.  The latest headline involves some Utah county commissioner planning an ATV rally on public lands of archeological importance.  While some people see public lands management as federal land grabs and liberty restrictions, others value public ownership as protection for places from private exploitation.  But what does it really mean to own these lands?

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