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Congressman makes case for forest management during Glacier fire tour

August 23, 2018
In The News

A veil of smoke cradled the fire camp set up at the KOA campground at West Glacier on Wednesday morning as fire officials managing the Howe Ridge Fire met with Rep. Greg Gianforte to discuss the fire’s activity.

The base, set up less than 10 miles from the fire’s southern edge in Glacier National Park, is the launch point for helicopters, water tankers, engines and other equipment, along with over 260 firefighters assigned to the fire now estimated at 10,300 acres.

The Type 1 team is responsible for three other fires burning nearby on the Flathead Forest — the Whale Butte, Coal Ridge and Paola Ridge fires — but their primary focus is on the one eating away at the forest along Lake McDonald, which is approximately nine times the size of the other three fires combined.

Though national parks, Glacier included, remain protected against logging and other commercial harvesting as land set aside for nature to rule, Gianforte left the morning briefing with fire officials with one answer to the wildfires — forest management.

“We need to look upstream and I’ve really championed forest management reform back in congress. We need to get back to managing our forests again, instead of breathing them each summer,” Gianforte said, noting the wildfire smoke over the region.

“I’m not suggesting we should do something different in the park,” he continued. “It’s just an observation that we have three fires that are hundreds of acres and one that’s over 10,000 acres. Part of the difference is that forest management was done in the first three cases and not in the last one.”

Operations Senior Chief Todd Abel also commented on the difference forest management has made on the 560-acre Paola Ridge Fire burning near Essex, as opposed to the growth exhibited on the uncontained Howe Ridge Fire.

“The other benefit to [the Paola] fire is that … the local forest had done some fuel reduction, some timber sales in there, and that helped slow that fire down, which is a huge asset for us,” Abel said.

A break in high temperatures and dry conditions early in the week did allow firefighters to get a foothold on the Howe Ridge Fire on Tuesday and Wednesday, working to open up an area along the inside North Fork Road to the south of the fire as a control line they hope to prevent the blaze from crossing.

Directly south of the road is Fish Creek Campground, currently evacuated of visitors other than the firefighters working on point protection around an old boathouse built in the 1930s.

An estimated 2 miles of forest stood between the fire and the campground.

Abel said the North Fork Road was a less than ideal place to establish their control line, but it provided a good enough barrier to make it worth a shot. The action plan, he said, was a slow and steady indirect attack, utilizing aircraft and control lines to minimize asset loss.

To the north, the morning smoke inversion choked out most of the view of the shore across from the Lake McDonald Lodge. The historic building, normally bustling with visitors this time of year, sat quiet and empty before a vacant parking lot in the haze. The lodge was evacuated last week,

A single sailboat braved the waters of Lake McDonald.

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