Fireproofing America’s Forests

Post-fire erosian in a Colorado watershed. ©USGS

It’s not a question of if the dense forests south of Bozeman, Montana, will burn, but when. After multiple studies warned that ash and sediment from a fire could knock out the booming mountain city’s water-treatment facility, local officials worked with the U.S. Forest Service to craft a plan that would thin trees and conduct prescribed burns to protect the watershed from a catastrophic fire. “The Forest Service and the city feel it is responsible management to begin these preventative reduction actions now,” officials said at the time.

That was 16 years ago. This summer, after regulatory delays and litigation from environmental groups, the project finally got underway. It couldn’t happen soon enough. As wildfires have raged across the western United States this year, forest-restoration projects like this are proving critical to reducing the risk of devastating wildfires—that is, as long as red tape and litigation don’t keep such projects from getting off the ground.

Consider another restoration project, proposed in 2010 in nearby Lincoln, Montana. After six years of environmental analysis and procedural delays, the project won approval in 2016 but was later halted when environmental groups sued, claiming thinning trees and clearing underbrush would degrade wildlife habitat. In 2017, while the restoration work was stalled, much of the habitat was destroyed when the area burned in a large wildfire—the very outcome that the project was designed to avoid.

Read the full article in City Journal.

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