Friday, December 13, 2013

Policymakers, fire scientists explore wildland-urban interface issues in Montana

Martin Kidston in the Missoulian (Montana):  While the scars left by the Lolo Creek Complex fire have gone from black to white in recent weeks, the memories left by the summer conflagration are still fresh. On Wednesday, with the fire’s charge through the wildland-urban interface serving as a conversational backdrop, a group of policymakers and fire scientists met at the University of Montana to explore ways of making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Does the state need to regulate private land owners who live in the wildland-urban interface? Should insurance companies be brought to the table? Should climate change become part of the larger conversation on forest health? “Fire is something that affects us all,” said James Burchfield, dean of the College of Forestry and Conservation. “How is it that we’re going to collectively deal with that?“

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, said a bill passed during the last legislative session drastically changed the way the state funds the suppression of wildland fires. The discussions that surrounded that bill, coupled with the Lolo Creek fire, prompted Larsen and the college to form a working group to find solutions to what most agreed is a growing problem. “I’m curious to see what we can do from a policy standpoint to address this,” Larsen said.

Shaping that policy could prove politically uncomfortable for both parties. To be effective, members of the working group suggested that the conversation must explore private property rights, climate change and allowing increased harvesting of forest products.

“We need to explore creative solutions in the West and how we deal with private property rights in the wildland urban interface,” said Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula. “If we want to make innovative change, we have to start now and we need broad-based solutions.“ Regulating private property within the wildland-urban interface could be similar to regulations governing private land within the 100-year floodplain, some suggested....

Swiftcurrent Fire Lookout, Glacier National Park, Montana. National Park Service photo

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