U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Michael Munoz of Choteau has signed a final decision for the Elk Smith project, located on the Rocky Mountain Ranger District of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest southwest of Augusta.
The decision, signed Nov. 1, authorizes use of prescribed fire to reduce wildfire fuels and create a diverse forested landscape on about 10,300 acres in the larger project area. In doing so, the Forest Service will be able to meet its project objectives of reducing the risk of future high–intensity wildfire in the area and the potential for such a wildfire to spread to adjacent private lands.
“The Elk Smith project is really part of a greater fire management strategy for this portion of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District,” said Munoz. “We have recently begun to work with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and private landowners to expand upon the need to address wildfire management beyond ownership and jurisdictional boundaries that wildfire does not recognize. This signed decision will allow us to move onward to implement activities on the ground across the larger landscape.”
The Elk Smith project was a result of a landscape-level assessment of the southern portion of the Rocky Mountain Ranger District. In 1988, the Canyon Creek fire burned through the Elk Creek and Smith Creek drainages, resulting in continuous, similar-aged lodgepole pine stands and heavy loads of dead and down fuels that could lead to another large–scale wildfire in the area. The Elk Smith project decision authorizes the use of prescribed fire to help reduce the intensity of future wildfires and create an area more diverse and resilient to wildfire when it does occur.
“The Elk Smith project is all about managing future wildfires that will likely occur in this fire–adapted environment, including increasing our ability to manage wildfires for natural resource benefit in the nearby Scapegoat Wilderness and adjoining wildlands,” Munoz explained.
With the final decision signed, the Rocky Mountain Ranger District will now begin planning implementation of the Elk Smith project. The district will conduct public meetings in the future to inform area residents and other interested members of the public about specific plans for prescribed burning related to this project. Visit the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/hlcnf) and follow the forest on social media for updates. More information about the Elk Smith project is available online at the USDA website.