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Forest Service letter gives vague ideas about fighting wildfires

By Rebecca Vogt, KCFW Reporter, rvogt@kcfw.com
Published On: Mar 06 2013 08:16:34 PM MST
KALISPELL, Mont. -

In 2012, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry James Hubbard released a letter outlining fire management prior to fire season. The letter asked for "aggressive initial attacks" for all unwanted wildfires, keeping them small and inexpensive, noting it would not be "a desirable approach in the long run."

But after a slight departure from natural restoration in 2012, a 2013 letter from US Forest Service Director Thomas Tidwell held a more vague description of the upcoming wildfire season.

"In no case are we going to violate risk management principals and expose firefighters to unnecessary risk and make sure we don't compromise common sense," explained Wade Muehlhof of the Flathead National Forest.

But the Flathead National Forest also feels wildfires are a necessary factor in keeping an ecosystem alive and well without compromising safety.

"Anytime we're talking about a forest fire that would be near structures or near people we're going to manage that very differently than if it's out in the middle of wilderness," continued Muehlhof.

NBC Montana talked with several outfitters who lead backpacking trips in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and other areas across the Rockies. They share similar sentiments and say wildfires are healthy for forests and grasslands.

"A policy that allows for natural processes such as wildfires to play their traditional role in the ecosystem is essential," said Big Wild Adventures' Howie Wolke.

Wolke feels wilderness should be kept wild, with natural events allowed to take place without consequence. He hopes fire managers will continue to work with outfitters to allow trips to continue when a fire breaks out.

"Even if another area is not on that outfitter's permit I would hope the Forest Service would exhibit the flexibility to allow people to run trips in other areas that aren't immediately affected by fire.," Wolke said.  "That's just part of allowing people to make a living without interfering with natural processes."

The Flathead National Forest, along with other branches, will wait for more directives from Washington before moving forward with a definite plan for 2013.