A great venture in the Kootenai National Forest is before us

by Tim Dougherty, Doug Ferrell and Ed Levert
| November 13, 2020 7:00 AM

Did you know that Lincoln County ranks in the 97th percentile of all western U.S. counties in fire risk to our communities? That is the bad news, but the good news is that Lincoln County, the Kootenai National Forest (KNF), Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are working together to reduce fire risk under the Kootenai Wildland Urban Interface Shared Stewardship agreement (KSSA).

What this means is, in areas near Libby and other towns, these varying agencies are working together to prioritize treatments on federal, state and private lands. Stimson Lumber Co. will manage their own lands, but they are cooperating and coordinating their management with the other agencies. The NRCS will be working with homeowners and other small private landowners, providing advice and funding for fuels reduction projects that are in line with the goals of the Shared Stewardship Agreement.

This is important because efforts to reduce fire danger are most effective when a unified approach is applied to all lands in a given area, regardless of ownership boundaries.

Saying that these agencies are working together is probably a big understatement. 1) Priorities for treatments will be directed by the Lincoln County Firesafe Council. 2) The state DNRC will coordinate and support project planning, layout and administration on their lands in active cooperation with the Kootenai National Forest. 3) The NRCS and Stimson Lumber Co. will coordinate treatments on private lands.

Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) has been a key leader in spearheading these efforts. This coordination is rather mind boggling considering where traditional management was in the past.

Additionally, under the leadership of the Forest Service, these parties are all cooperating to apply for major additional funds for a landscape level fuels reduction treatment proposed under the authority of the Joint Chiefs Initiative. If successful, the proposal will provide additional funding within the greater Libby area. Ed Levert, former Lincoln County Forester, was quoted as saying, “as bad as Lincoln County’s fire hazard is, the worst hazard is in the greater Libby area.”

Kootenai Forest Supervisor Chad Benson, in reflecting on the shared stewardship work, observed that, “We are building our community foundation and even though the project is huge, I think we are up to the task.”

The Kootenai Forest Stakeholder Coalition (KFSC) is very supportive of these recent developments, and wants our community to be aware of all the good work and cooperation underway. The KFSC is a local area non-profit organization composed of diverse forest user groups, public agencies and individuals who seek to provide management input and support to the KNF. We firmly believe that the shared stewardship approach represents a new era of cooperation and effective management on the KNF and adjacent lands.

Dougherty of the Idaho Forest Group, serves as co-chair of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholder Coalition. Ferrell of Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, serves as co-chair of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholder Coalition. Levert, a former Lincoln County Forester, serves on the Kootenai Forest Stakeholder Coalition.