Council to revise forest action plan

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Montana’s wildfire season stretches longer and burns more severely than in decades past.

The state’s average fire season is 40 days longer than it was 30 years ago and the average number of acres burned has increased 15-fold in the last 20 years.

Gov. Steve Bullock offered these observations in a news release Monday that announced his creation by executive order of the Montana Forest Action Advisory Council.

He noted, too, that the size of fires and their frequency are likely to increase, according to climate forecasts, an ominous trend for a state with more than 23 million acres of forested land.

The council will include up to 30 members appointed by the governor. Bullock has appointed 21 members to date and has invited participation from representatives of Montana tribes.

His appointees range from Jason Todhunter of the Montana Logging Association to Pete Nelson of Defenders of Wildlife.

“We can and we must work together for the well-being of our forests and to reduce wildland fire risk,” Bullock said in the news release.

“I’m confident that through these new partnerships we can protect our outdoor recreational opportunities, wildlife and fisheries habitat for a diverse range of species, drinking water supplies and soil health, all while treating more acres on the ground and investing in priority areas around the state,” he said.

Bullock said the Montana Forest Action Advisory Council, which he described as a statewide collaborative group, will update the Montana Forest Action Plan. He said the plan will “address long-term efforts to conserve working forest lands, protect forests from harm and enhance public benefits from forests throughout the state.”

The original Montana Forest Action Plan was completed in 2010 and is due to be revised in 2020.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will administer the council and will help, Bullock said, “develop a statewide assessment of forest conditions and a collaborative statewide resource strategy to address wildland fire risk and forest health issues across ownership boundaries on forests throughout the state.”

Sonya Germann, administrator of the department’s forestry division, said council members will not be paid but will be reimbursed for expenses when traveling to meetings. She said the department plans to hire a facilitator as an independent contractor for the council meetings.

In the year ahead, the Montana Forest Action Advisory Council will meet six to eight times across the state, according to the news release. It will hold public meetings and identify public comment periods.

Bullock’s appointees include eight people chosen to serve on a leadership committee for the council. They are: Carol Brooker, Sanders County commissioner; Mark Peck, Lincoln County commissioner; Jim Durglo, Intertribal Timber Council; Gordy Sanders, Pyramid Lumber; Darcie Warden, Greater Yellowstone Coalition; Erin Farris-Olsen, Montana Watershed Coordinating Council; Tim Love, Montana Forest Collaborative Network; and Tom DeLuca, University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation.

Separately, in March, Bullock announced he was establishing a Grizzly Bear Advisory Council “to help initiate a statewide discussion on grizzly bear management, conservation and recovery.”

Bullock asked interested parties to apply and the deadline was April 12. The governor received 157 applications.

Marissa Perry, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said Monday the grizzly bear council likely will include somewhere between 12 and 20 members “to ensure quality conversation and discussion.”

She said the governor hopes to make appointments to the grizzly bear council by mid-June, which would allow meetings to start this summer.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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