Montana Governor Steve Bullock nominated nearly five million acres of national forest land on April 7 as priority landscapes ready for restoration in accordance with the Agriculture Act of 2014—the Farm Bill act.
The Farm Bill allows a governor of a state to nominate area landscapes impacted by insects and disease to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. If those areas are then designated by the secretary, they will receive “prioritized’’ forest management efforts from the Forest Service, where restoration projects like timber harvest in some places will be utilized, according to Bullock.
Out of the nearly five million acres, seven areas totaling 587,284 acres are in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF). At a press conference at Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge on Monday, the governor said the Farm Bill designations will serve as an “on the ground” plan to get the ball rolling on forest rehabilitation.
“We want to mitigate wildfire risk and maintain healthy forested land,” Bullock said. “We stand on the verge of losing many benefits of our forests.”
BDNF working group chair and Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz spoke next at the press conference.
“The Farm Bill gives us a mechanism and energy to move to the next step,” Schulz explained. “Our forests can provide jobs, opportunities and products, as well as backcountry recreation. During the last few years it seems we have found ourselves going backward, but the Farm Bill gives us energy to move forward.”
The governor designated the landscapes by examining risk of fire and risk of forest health. He then looked at areas where working groups, like the one chaired by Schulz, are already discussing forest health in collaborative settings.
“Many of these nominated landscapes arise from diverse groups of Montanans who are already working together to build forest management projects that meet a variety of needs,” Bullock said.
The northwest Gravelly Mountains and Tobacco Root Mountains from McAllister to Sheridan was identified as one of the seven landscapes from the BDNF. It was selected by the working group because of extensive issues with insects and disease as well as public interest in positively mitigating forest health issues, Schulz said. The area also already has an adequate supply of roads so the projects could “get in there and get it done quicker,” Schulz added.
It is the governor’s hope that within 90 days, federal, state and collaborative partners like the BDNF working group can begin working together on projects from the landscapes the secretary selects to receive management first.
“Because we used a consultant to help prepare the projects we nominated and we put some science into them, it sounds like the Governor’s Office may be looking at our working group efforts as an example of how [the nominations] need to be prepared in the future,” Schulz said about the areas nominated from the BDNF. “We put a significant amount of time into the quality of our presentation; it is our hope we will garner some priority [from the forest service].”