Could a Burn Ban Threaten Bozeman’s Water Supply

Pile burning. ©USDA

PERC Policy Director Hannah Downey joined the Montana Talks radio program with host Aaron Flint to discuss the U.S. Forest Service’s recent 90-day halt on prescribed burns nationwide. The halt was put in place after a prescribed burn in New Mexico grew out of control and sparked one of the largest wildfires in the state’s history.

Hannah argues that the burn ban is misguided and instead of protecting our communities and forests, actually removes a critical tool needed to restore our forests and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. She points to the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project as an example of critical restoration work that was underway when the burn ban was put in place. The project is meant to actively manage the forest surrounding Bozeman’s watershed to limit the risk of catastrophic fire polluting the water supply. Now, the prescribed burns that were scheduled for Bozeman’s watershed have been halted for 90 days, meaning the Forest Service will miss its spring window to treat the area.

“If that forest went up in flames, we’ve been told we’d have a water supply of about three days, which is a really scary thought.” Mechanical treatments can continue, but prescribed fire is necessary for terrain that is difficult to reach with heavy equipment.

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