Missoula, Mont. (Feb 24, 2023) – The Forest Service’s Northern Region and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montana and North Dakota will receive a portion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) $48 million-dollar Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership national investment this year.
The two newly-announced projects in southwest Montana’s Elkhorn mountain range and in the North Dakota Badlands will mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality, restore forest and grassland ecosystems and combat climate change.
The partnership enables the Forest Service and NRCS to bring together agricultural producers, forest and grassland landowners, Tribes and state and federal agency partners to increase forest, rangeland and grassland health, reduce the intensity of wildfire, enhance wildlife habitat and maintain or improve watershed values on a large landscape scale using available Farm Bill conservation programs and other authorities to complete work.
Improvements will be made on 6,270 acres of private land and 13,500 acres of Forest Service lands within southwest Montana’s Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area. High priority treatment areas for this project include a municipal watershed and numerous communities and residential developments in the wildland urban interface, which lie within high and extreme fire risk areas. Management activities on the unit will span several forest types and will include the reduction of conifer colonization in grasslands and shrublands that will increase habitat diversity for additional wildlife species, improve the resilience of the local landscape and benefit local communities. Meadow and shrubland restoration and the reintroduction of fire will improve high-quality wildlife habitat into the future and restore grasslands to more historic conditions.
Phase Two of the Badlands Restoration Project will treat 8,500 acres of juniper encroachment and ponderosa pine stands within the 1.3 million acres of Badlands areas of western North Dakota to reduce the threat of wildfire near the communities of Amidon, Belfield, Fairfield, Grassy Buttes, Keene, Mandaree and Medora, ND. Wildfire risk reduction treatments are also planned on and adjacent to Ft. Berthold Reservation. Treatments will also reduce wildfire risk to oil and gas development on private, state and federal lands, while improving grasslands habitat for bighorn sheep and other native wildlife. Additionally, this project will improve water and soil conditions and provide improved forage quality and quantity for livestock grazing. Conservation practices will build upon the first phase of this project, which treated 1,200 acres of juniper and ponderosa pine stands with an additional 10,500 acres under contract to be treated.
Working in partnership, and at this scale, helps reduce wildfire threats to communities and critical infrastructure, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species. Through these new three-year projects, landowners will work with local USDA experts and partners to apply targeted forestry and grassland management practices such as thinning, hazardous fuel treatments, construction of fire breaks and other systems to meet unique landscape health challenges in their area.
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. The Forest Service’s Northern Region includes nine National Forests and 1.2 million acres of National Grasslands in North and South Dakota. These public lands provide timber for people, forage for cattle and wildlife, habitat for fish, plants, and animals, and some of the best recreational opportunities in the country.
At the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, we have a proud history of supporting America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. Our mission is to deliver conservation solutions so agricultural producers can protect natural resources and feed a growing world. Our vision is a world of clean and abundant water, healthy soils, resilient landscapes, and thriving agricultural communities through voluntary conservation.