Lincoln County land managers partner for forest management

·6 min read

Aug. 19—Land managers in Lincoln County announced that work is underway to reduce wildfire risk and provide jobs and revenue for local communities through coordinated management efforts across the landscape.

State, federal, local and private partners are working to leverage common resources and integrate multiple projects, including reducing fuels across land ownerships, updating the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), and investments in long term programs that will help reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health, and support economic benefits for communities in Lincoln County.

According to the Montana Forest Action Plan, Lincoln County is among the counties with the highest wildfire risk in Montana. Due to the high risk of wildfire and threats to communities and critical infrastructure, land managers are jointly reporting on the work of the many on-going projects listed below.

To be successful in reducing wildfire risk across the county, land managers and their partners welcome any citizen engagement in current or future projects. For more information, please contact the relevant agency representative.

2021 MOU for Cross-boundary Management

A 2021 Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Lincoln County formalized the intent of the agencies to work together to treat priority areas of high wildfire risk to communities as well as invest in manufacturing and local economic opportunities.

"Lincoln County has pursued an intentional, coordinated cross boundary fuel treatment plan in the County for several years," says Commissioner Jerry Bennett, Lincoln County. "It is encouraging to see the County and its partners, USFS, DNRC, and NRCS, finalizing a long-term agreement that benefits both private and public lands into the next decade."

Lincoln County WUI Shared Stewardship Initiative

The Lincoln County Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Shared Stewardship Initiative is intended to coordinate efforts across ownership boundaries to increase the pace and scale of active management in the Kootenai National Forest and surrounding areas by expanding an already-existing Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) agreement.

The expanded GNA agreement establishes a goal to treat up to 10,000 acres a year in the Kootenai National Forest. The initiative also draws funding from NRCS and USFS State and Private Forestry programs to support treatments on private lands in the WUI.

"Prioritizing fuels treatments on private lands that are in proximity to public lands projects is a major emphasis for the NRCS Eureka Field Office," says Brian Ressel, District Conservationist for NRCS. "With the vast amount of timber lands that we have in the county, this approach ensures we are targeting the landscapes and communities with the highest fire risk and the greatest need. Working across fence lines is the only way to make a real impact and it takes strong partnerships across a range of property ownerships to make that happen."

"Cross-boundary work through shared stewardship to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health on public and private lands is critical to our local communities," says Gary Kedish, Partnership Coordinator for the Kootenai National Forest. "Our strong partnerships and future coordination will build on current agency programs and help focus work in priority areas with high wildfire risk."

Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update

Lincoln County and Lincoln County FireSafe Council are working to update the 2013 Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) to align with the most recent information on wildfire risk and the most effective strategies to reduce wildfire risk. The Lincoln County CWPP revision draft, which includes WUI mapping and priority areas for wildfire mitigation work, is entering a public comment period.

"Community Wildfire Protection Plans provide counties with a mechanism to identify areas of local concern regarding wildfire threat to their communities and infrastructure," says Jennifer Nelson, Lincoln County Forester. "They also allow the county a voice in the treatment of those areas across ownerships. This voice has been made stronger by the 2021 MOU for Cross-Boundary Management. "

Wildland Urban Interface Strategic Roadmap

DNRC, in partnership with Kootenai National Forest (KNF), NRCS, and Lincoln County, is working to execute a five-year strategic roadmap to display how projects of agencies and landowners work together to increase the pace and the amount of acreage treated in the Lincoln County WUI to protect homes, infrastructure, and communities. Additionally, the roadmap shows how this collective work will support manufacturing and investment in the forest products industry in Lincoln County.

"Our goal is to help Lincoln County and partner agencies understand wildfire risk to communities and plan actions to reduce that risk," says Steve Kimball, Local Government Forest Advisor for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. "The interactive map tool we've created shows fuels reduction projects that are both in-progress and completed on all lands in the Wildland Urban Interface. This tool will help land managers track progressive completion of treatments and identify gaps where future treatments can be planned."

Libby Surround Stewardship, 2022 Joint Chiefs' Landscape Restoration Project

The Libby Surround Stewardship Project will treat hazardous fuels on 4,605 acres of land surrounding Libby. This project is part of an ongoing cross-boundary effort to connect past, present and future activities in a large project area of 263,026 acres.

Partners include Lincoln County, DNRC, American Forest Foundation (AFF), Kootenai Forests to Rivers Initiative (KFRI), Stimson Lumber Company, Lincoln County Firesafe Council and Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition (KFSC).

Kootenai Forests to Rivers Initiative

KFRI is providing Lincoln County with $430,000 for cost-share grants to help private landowners create defensible space around their homes and reduce fuels on their properties through grant funding awarded through DNRC.

Over the past two years, approximately 350 acres of private land have been treated to make homes and neighborhoods in Lincoln County more defensible during wildfire and provide safer escape routes.

Kootenai Complex Project

The Kootenai Complex Project targets priority areas surrounding Libby, Troy, Eureka, Stryker, Fortine and Trego in Lincoln County.

The project is one of 10 identified under the federal Initial Landscape Investments plan to address wildfire risk in the western United States.

Active management on approximately 7,200 acres is expected to be completed over the next few years. Approximately $19 million is earmarked for the Kootenai project, with $3 million set to be dispersed this year.

Rabbit Tracts Project

The Rabbit Tracts project, located on federal, state, and private lands in the WUI near Troy, Montana, will help protect the community from wildfire and create lines of defense while also improving forest resilience to fire, insects, and disease; reduce fuels; improve water quality; provide forage and security for wildlife; and support the wood products industry.

This project is one of the 14 initial investments from Montana Forest Action Plan funding. Restoration activities will include fuels treatments; pre-commercial and commercial timber harvest; prescribed burning; tree and native shrub, grass, and forb planting; and weed treatments.

Local Investment in Forest Products industry

In addition to the federal, state, and local projects, Lincoln County is working to support the forest products industry by investing in manufacturing facilities to support forest restoration goals and the local economy.

"We've got a real opportunity in Lincoln County to bring infrastructure to our community that will help accomplish forest restoration goals, bring economic stability, and also support our milling and forest products industry," says Mark Peck, Lincoln County Shared Stewardship Coordinator. "Healthy forests mean healthy communities and if we can help contribute to a healthy forest through active management while also supporting industry and good jobs, we will take that opportunity."