Capital 360 Project Receives Funding through USDA Joint Chiefs’ Initiative

HELENA, MONT., January 18, 2018—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest nearly $32 million this year to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems in 24 states and Puerto Rico. Of that funding, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received $696,046 to support implementation of projects in the Capital 360 area, which spans Broadwater, Jefferson, and Lewis & Clark counties. 

Since 2014, USDA has invested $176 million in 56 Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects, which focus on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately-owned lands. This year the Joint Chiefs’ partner USDA agencies are providing $2.9 million to fund seven new projects and $29 million to support 21 ongoing partnership projects.

“Wildfires are a serious and on-going threat to forests and communities alike, as we’ve seen in northern and southern California this year,” said Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke.  “Through these Joint Chiefs’ projects, USDA will be working with local partners in high-risk project areas to control invasive species, install fire breaks and implement other targeted forest management practices to help mitigate the risk of wide-spread wildfires.”

Along with mitigating fire risk, Joint Chiefs’ projects work to improve water quality by restoring healthy forests and grasslands.

“The Capital 360 aims to do both: mitigate wildfire risk in priority areas and improve water quality to the Helena and East Helena municipal water supply,” Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said. “Already we have seen success from our partners in this effort by their implementation of small scale fuels reduction projects within the project area.”

Capital 360 has an “all hands, all lands” approach to implementing its various projects that help meet three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy: resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities, and safe and effective wildfire response.

Locally, these funds enable the forest to treat hazardous fuels on National Forest System lands and enter agreements with the City of Helena and three counties to extend the landscape footprint by treating fuels, in conjunction with other treatments, across boundaries within the wildland urban interface (WUI).

One of the high-priority treatment areas for the Capital 360 planning area is the City of Helena Municipal Watershed (Tenmile Watershed), which supplies water to over 30,000 residents of Helena. This watershed is a heavily populated WUI area surrounding Helena, Rimini, York, Clancy, and Montana City, which includes historic mining districts and nationally recognized recreation areas including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.  

Because of the treatments, the probability of high-severity fire with impacts to soils and the WUI have been reduced. Additionally, these treatments have enhanced suppression options in the event a fire occurs in these areas. Implementing projects within the Capital 360 area moves the forest and partners closer to taking a more comprehensive approach to mitigating fire hazard caused by mountain pine beetle within the primary watershed for the City of Helena and adjacent WUI.

“Each individual partner brings a unique perspective to the table and specific contributions. Some partners like the DNRC bring additional funding from the statewide Forest in Focus Initiative, while others bring invaluable in-kind contibutions through implementing important projects like noxious weeds treatments and fuel mitigation projects on, and adjacent to, the national forest,” Avey said. “The success of Capital 360 truly lies within the strength of the partners coming together to collectively care for the land, despite administrative boundaries.”

The USFS-Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest received $450,000 and NRCS received $246,046 to utilize for projects within the Capital 360 area. The funding will be used to mitigate hazardous fuels on approximately 290,000 acres.