You know that times are changed when an non-profit environmental public relations firm is touting a community project that included logging.
Ben Long, senior program director for Resource Media, which says it seeks to “develop and execute smart communications strategies for the environment and public health,” sent me a press release about the work of the Lemhi County Forest Restoration Group. Now the release doesn’t highlight the logging.
But it wants people to know how the group’s forest health projects, gave fire fighters a “critical edge to limit the danger and damage done by this summer’s Mustang wildfire.”
Forest health is window dressing for logging, environmentalists told me 20 years ago. But not today.
Instead of some timber industry group sending out the press release, it is Long talking about a forest-thinning project in the Hughes Creek drainage, five miles north of the of North Fork, well known to Boise rafters.
“The fuels treatments in the Hughes Creek area, implemented by the North Fork Ranger District, were put to the test during the Mustang fire,” said Danny Montoya, Mustang fire team operations chief. “I firmly believe that they provided us with the opportunity to steer the fire away from the Highway 93 Corridor and the Lost Trail Ski Area.”
Strong words. Many residents of Salmon were unhappy with the road closures and smoke they had to breathe much of the season.
They had wished the fire had been put out in the early stages. Remember though, the Forest Service this summer decided to put out all fires as soon as they could about 98 percent of all that started.
But some get away and when they do and conditions are dry and hot they take off across the forest as a crown fire. Fire Operations Chief Russ Long, who was assigned to the Mustang Fire said that as the crown fire moved into the 13,000 acres of the Hughes Creek thinning area the fire dropped to the ground, the press release said.
That allowed the firefighters to steer the fire away from Gibbonsville and lower Hughes Creek where the majority of residences are.
The Mustang Fire burned 340,000 acres and cost $38 million to fight.
The Salmon Valley Stewardship, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and local contractors worked with the Salmon-Challs forest on the Hughes Creek tract doing weed control, forest thinning, road and bridge improvements and biological surveys. Timber cut in the process was milled at Pyramid Lumber in Seeley Lake, Mont.
“We will never entirely fireproof the forest, but it’s important to plan ahead and be good stewards of the land,” said Gina Knudson, of Salmon Valley Stewardship. “The success of Hughes Creek drives home the importance of doing what we can to safeguard communities and waterways and decrease the risk of losing property, wildlife habitat, and other important assets.”
David Allen, CEO and president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula called the project a win-win.
“Not only did it have a positive impact for firefighters this past summer, but the on-the-ground work itself improved vital habitat, travel corridors, and forage for elk and other wildlife,” Allen said in the press release.
These are the kind of projects that are bringing people who used to fight, together toward common goals. I know the cynics on both sides dismiss these successes as isolated and too little to keep up with the size of fires.
But the fires are going to burn no matter what we do. Where they will burn and whether we consider them positive or negative will in part be shaped by people like Knudson, who reaches out across the great divides of the West.