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1 SIDNEY HERALD, WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 2019 A5 a a a s a BYAWOAEGGm Mon~Free Press Editor's Note: As the West enters another fire season, where, how and why federal land management agencies de ide ta suppress wild- fires and implement fuel reduction projects will be hotly debated, as residents, environmen- talists, agency heads, and politicians tangle with how much, if any, thinning, logging, and prescribed burning is appropriate to mitigate fire risk. Three trends play an important role in the dis- cussion: hotter and drier conditions wrought by climate change, which have led to an extend- ed burning season and a spike in fires deemed "historically significant " by the Federal Emer- gency Management Agency; a near doubling of the number of homes built in areas of Mon- tana with high wild- fire risk since 1990; and nearly 900 structures lost to Montana wild- fires in the past decade, despite ever-growing spending on suppres- sion, to the tune of $397 million spent suppress- ing Montana fires in 2017, including an all- time high of $68.2 mil- lion from state of Mon- tana coffers, which con- tributed to a significant state budget shortfall in 2018. In this three-part se- ries, Montana Free Press examines how federal land manage- ment agencies have ap- proached wildfire in the past and highlights key public and private sector developments that could change how we engage with it in the future. This first installment outlines a handful of events and policies that have shaped the wild- fire narrative in the last century. Shortly after its es- tablishment in 1905, the U.S. Forest Service un- derwent a literal trial by fire when a confla- gration of fires in Mon- tana and Idaho known as the Big Burn of 1910 consumed 3 million acres, killing 86 people (mostly firefighters) and reducing the town of Wallace, Idaho, near- ly to ash. Most of those 3 mil- lion acres burned in a two-day period, August 20-21, fueled by hurri- cane-force winds that sucked entire trees from the ground and turned them into air- borne blowtorches. Im- pacts were felt far and wide. Smoke turned the sun an eerie copper Smoke from burnout operations rises above the Madison River during the Maple Fire in Yellowstone National Park, September 10, 2016. color in Boston, and soot fell on the ice in Greenland. "Not ever before had a forest fire been given headlines so big or so black," pop- ular historian Stuart Holbrook wrote a de- cade later. "It [was] literally seared into [the Forest Service's memory] -- in large part because many of the subsequent chiefs came out of Mis- soula and fought that fire," said Char Mill- er, a professor of en- vironmental analysis and history at Pomona College and author of Public Lands, Public Debates: A Century of Controversy. Damage sustained in the 1910 fires helped the fledgling Forest Ser- vice, Montana's largest federal land manager, rally public and polit- ical support to invest in more personnel, equipment and infra- structure (roads, look- out towers, and ranger stations) to help spot and fight wildfires in the ensuing decades. Through the war years, fire was largely regard- ed by the Forest Service and American public as a destructive force to be subdued. In 1935, the Forest Service instituted a "10 a.m. policy" di- recting fire manag- ers to contain all hu- man-caused fires by 10 a.m. the following day. Even in the 1930s, the blanket suppression Expert care close to home. Trinity Health has specialists in your area who look forward to seeing you. Call today for an appointment. 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I firmly believe that if the For- est Service had never expended a dollar in this country since 1900 there would have been no appreciable differ- ence in the area burned over," he wrote in a 1935 issue of Journal of For- estry. Miller said Koch's position was so contro- versial that the editor of the Journal of Forestry felt compelled to write an editorial opposing Koch's views. The Forest Service largely stayed the course of the 10 a.m. policy, but it wasn't until the agency began employing emerging technologies includ- ing dozers, aircraft, and flame retardant in the 1950s that it found greater success meeting that objective, Miller said. By the 1960s, the ecological role of wild- fire in fire-adapted landscapes had gained greater recognition among land managers. In 1968, the National Park Service began allowing natural igni- tions sparked in favor- able conditions to run their course, and used prescribed fires to meet management objectives. The more hands-off fire management that Elers Koch support- ed was vindicated in 1972 when the chief of the Forest Service ap- proved the agency's first wilderness fire management plan, which gave fire man- agers authority to let lightning-sparked fires burn in a portion of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, typically under predetermined conditions and within a specified geographic area. The National Park Service policy faced a political test in 1988, when 1.2 million acres burned in and around Yellowstone National Park during an excep- tionally hot and dry summer, leading some frustrated residents in nearby communities to petition park admin- istrators to scrap the park's 1972 policy allow- ing some natural igni- tions to burn. Efforts to reframe the narrative about those fires, including a Feb- ruary 1989 cover story in National Geographic documenting the regen- eration that followed the flames, met with some success, Miller said, catalyzing a sea change that took about a decade to soak into public consciousness. "There was this much more ecological view of fire -- that fire was a good thing. It's not de- structive, but actually it was regenerative," he said. Even with evolving attitudes, much of the West's forested land- scape is still subject to what ecologists call a fire deficit. Fewer acres have burned than would be historically expected, likely due to decades of human ac- tivity, i.e wildfire sup- pression, logging, graz- ing, and the conversion of landscapes for agri- cultural use, accord- BUYING ATV'S AND MOTORCYCLES IN NEED OF REPAIRS! Taking consignments as well! ALL SEASON MOTORSPORTS ! 123 7th St SW, Sidney, MT 59270 406-433-6712 ing to a 2015 article in the journal Ecosphere. Given how many acres of the West have been gobbled up by wildfire in recent years, the idea of a fire deficit might come as a surprise, but long-standing policies geared toward extin- guishing fires have led to higher fuel loads, am- plifying fires. Research- ers working with the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station cite aggressive wildfire suppression as "one of the major factors that drive the increased exten,inten- sity, and damage asso- ciated with the small number of large wild- fires that are unable to be suppressed." A 2001 update to the multi-agency Federal Wildland Fire Manage- ment Policy recognized that Fire Management Plans should be "based upon the best avail- able science," and lists ponderosa pine, lodge- pole pine, pinyon/ju- niper woodlands, and tallgrass prairie as fire-adapted ecosys- tems where over-sup- pression of wildfire has been a "destabilizing influence." The report describes the challenge of reintroducing fire to these landscapes as "both urgent and enormous," while also recognizing that sup- pression has benefited humans by reducing air quality impacts, for example. Almost 20 years later, managers and policy- makers still struggle to balance the ecolog- ical benefits of fire with unwanted human impacts, particularly given development in the Wildland-Urban Interface. Miller stress- es that there's no one- size-fits-all approach that will work across diverse landscapes, but says there's plen- ty of thoughtful sci- ence supporting less suppression in favor of plafifiiiig "mehsli' -eg to prevent home losses and better human adap- tation to wildfire. Missoula County Commissioner David Strohmaier is one elect- ed official in Montana trying to move the needle on wildfire pre- paredness with more comprehensive land-use planning. "Fire is here, and it's here to stay," said Strohmaier, who au- thored Drift Smoke: Loss and Renewal in a Land of Fire after spending 15 years in fire management. "I'm confident [that in Mis- soula] we can make some meaningful dif- ference in resetting the narrative related to how we live with fire." Part 2 of Living with Fire will look at the chal- lenges and benefits o] land-use planning pol- icies in Missoula Coun- ty aimed at minimiz- ing losses in the Wild- land- Urban Interface. SWIM MEET JULY 13-14 LEWISTOWN JULY 20-21 GLENDIVE JULY 27-28 SCOBEY (DIVISIONALS) AUG 3-,4 SIDNEY (STATE) :e COMPANIES Sidney Fire Department July ! - Gas Leak 14th Ave SW July ! - Lift Assist 7th Ave SE July ! - Lift Assist 22nd Ave NW July 2 - Smoke at Residence CRI29 July 4 - Grass Fire on CR126 July 4 - Accident Assist on CR122 July 4 - Water Rescue by MDU Bridge July 5 - Smoke Alarm at Mainstay July 5 - Lift Assist 3rd St. NW