Missoula, Mont. – September 8, 2023 – The Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest seeks public feedback on the proposed Rock Creek Ecosystem Maintenance Burning project. The project proposes prescribed burning on up to 19,855-acres, over a 10 to 15-year period, as weather and fuel conditions allow.
The project is located within the Rock Creek drainage south of Interstate 90 in Granite County and contains portions of the Wildland Urban Interface and important wildlife habitat. The project consists of 42 prescribed burn units of various sizes. These units are delineated by topographic features (ridges and draws), and generally occur on dry, south facing aspects, which historically would have experienced frequent, low intensity fire.
Wildfires are historically prevalent in the Rock Creek ecosystem. Since 2000, 18 large fires (greater than 10-acres) have been recorded. Notable fire seasons include 2007 (approximately 40,000 acres burned) and 2017 (approximately 20,800 acres burned).
Prescribed burning is an important tool for improving landscape resilience in fire-adapted ecosystems. As such, several past prescribed burning and fuels decisions have focused on this area of the Lolo National Forest, including Ranch Creek Ecosystem Maintenance Burning in 1999, Puyear Ecosystem Maintenance Burning in 2000, and Rock Creek Fuels in 2003. Since 2000, approximately 17,515 acres have been treated with prescribed fire. This project aims to meet current needs for wildfire resilience on the landscape based on existing conditions.
“Ecosystem resilience is an important management goal,” said Missoula Deputy District Ranger, Shaun O’ Connor. “It can help reduce negative impacts to values from wildfires and increase fire managers’ abilities to protect these values, with improved probabilities of success.”
The Rock Creek drainage is also home to important resident populations of elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer with populations at or below objective (Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks 2022). The proposed prescribed fire treatments would enhance wildlife habitat by rejuvenating the palatable understory grasses, forbs, and shrubs through top-killing the decadent shrubs and small trees, which shade out and suppress these desirable species.
How to Comment: Public comments will be accepted during the 30-day scoping comment period ending September 30, 2023. Comments may be submitted electronically at the Project Page Link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/lolo/?project=64587, hand delivered or mailed to the following address:
Andy Bidwell, Lolo National Forest Fuels Specialist
Lolo National Forest
24 Fort Missoula Road
Missoula, MT 59804