Wildfire Adapted Missoula Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs are also available in printable PDF format.

1. How was the proposed Wildfire Adapted Missoula Project developed?

Answer: In 2016, a group of local agency representatives met and convened the Cohesive Strategy Work Group (CSWG); an interagency group with the desire to work on the three aspects of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy- Forest Resilience, Fire Adapted Communities, and Coordinated Response. Shortly after, Missoula County completed a revision of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) in the spring of 2018, with significant assistance from the U.S. Forest Service Fire Lab.

Wildfire Adapted Missoula (WAM) is a wildfire risk-based strategic fuels management project designed to implement the Missoula County CWPP and encompasses 455,787 total acres (multi-jurisdictional), 177,229 of which are Lolo National Forest system lands. The treatments proposed in this project would only occur on National Forest system lands.

2. Why is the Wildfire Adapted Missoula Project important?

Answer:  In recent years, we all have witnessed and been impacted by wildfires and smoke that have burned hundreds of thousands of acres across Montana and the west and exhibited unprecedented fire behavior due to increasingly longer, hotter and drier fire seasons and the large accumulation of hazardous fuels. According to Wildfire Risk Org, populated areas in Missoula County have, on average, greater wildfire risk than 84% of counties in Montana. Additionally, 58% of populated areas in Missoula County could be exposed to wildfire from indirect sources, such as embers or home-to-home ignition, while 32% could be directly exposed.

A wildfire risk assessment, developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Fire Lab, indicates that many immediate areas around Missoula including Blue Mountain and Grant Creek are at risk of high or severe wildfire events in the future. Wildfire hazard is determined based on proximity of critical infrastructure, water supplies, transportation corridors, fuels, terrain, and facilities. Human safety risk factors are based on population density, critical egress, and fire response capabilities.

The areas identified in the Wildfire Adapted Missoula project meet the criteria for high to very high wildfire hazard based on location to population centers, neighborhoods, and critical infrastructure. The goal of this project is to tackle this problem head-on through vegetation treatments that would reduce the risk to communities and first responders by removing the fuel and creating a healthier, more resilient forest.

3. How was the project boundary developed?

Answer: The project boundary was developed in 2016 and 2018 with the Cohesive Strategy Work Group and the Missoula County Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Additionally, mapping and wildfire hazard modeling was supported by the U.S. Forest Service Fire Lab. Using these plans and tools a 455,787-acre area surrounding the Missoula valley was identified in need of some degree of wildfire risk reduction fuel treatments.

4. What will happen with the ongoing or previously completed projects inside the WAM boundary like the Marshall Woods Restoration Project, Pattee Canyon, and Grant Creek?

Answer: There are several ongoing ‘demonstration projects’ within the Wildfire Adapted Missoula project boundary where work is occurring. Demonstration projects include the Grant Creek Fuels Reduction project, Pattee Canyon Maintenance project, and the Marshall Woods Forest Restoration project. These existing projects build upon partner efforts on private and county lands.

5. What does the phrase “all-hands, all-lands” mean and does the WAM project include other lands besides National Forest?

Answer: In short, ‘all-hands, all-lands’ means we are striving to work across jurisdictional boundaries with local, private, tribal, federal, county and state partners to achieve landscape restoration goals in a broader and more effective way instead of tackling the problem by ourselves. Wildfire does not know boundaries, so working together is the only way to make a difference on a larger scale.  

While the WAM proposed action would apply treatment on National Forest Lands only, WAM is also an initiative that welcomes partners to share stewardship of the restoration of the lands and work toward creative solutions to reduce wildfire hazard together through information sharing, raising awareness about available resources, home hardening programs, and public and private-land treatments.

6. How could this project help to protect my family, my home, or my land?

Answer: Wildfire could immediately impact every area resident and visitor to Missoula County. This could mean evacuation; heavy, long‐duration smoke impacts; potential neighborhood damage or loss; declines in business activity, home values, and tourism revenue. Our local experience and experience throughout the Western U.S. have taught us that properly planned fuel treatments have a significant effect on slowing and decreasing fire severity and improving forest health.

In the absence of such treatments, fires can easily transition into destructive events and/or result in declining forest health conditions that make our forests susceptible to insects and diseases. When forests are healthy, they can more easily resist disease and insects and when they have been treated, wildfire conditions are typically not as severe.

7. What could happen if we do nothing?

Answer: Taking no action to make the forest healthier and more resilient to high-severity fires and insects and diseases does not mean that the forest would remain as it is today; these forested lands would continue to grow becoming dense and accumulating more fuels, continually increasing the risk of these events occurring. Therefore, the surrounding watersheds and wildland‐urban interface continues to be at high-risk.

8. Is this project going to remove all the big trees that make the Missoula landscape so beautiful?

Answer: No, the proposed project will target unhealthy, diseased trees, or younger trees leaving mature, healthy trees in treatment areas to maintain overstory and the beauty and aesthetics of the area. The proposed treatments will eliminate ladder fuels (under story and low-lying branches) and younger trees that are creating over-competition for nutrients and resources.

9. Will this project decrease access to National Forest lands?

Answer: Although no changes to public motorized access are proposed to implement these treatments; both temporary and permanent road construction to support project implementation would occur for administrative/non-public motorized use. Additionally, .4 miles of existing trail would be added to the National Forest System to facilitate future prescribed burning activities and the removal of eight miles of unneeded, non-system road is proposed to reduce undesirable resource impacts and impacts on watersheds.

10. How many comments did you receive on the project during scoping and what did you hear?

Answer:  28 comment letters/emails were received. We heard a variety of thoughts and concerns from the Missoula community during scoping last October:

  • Concern about wildfire risk to private property: Some comments addressed ongoing work in areas such as the Rattlesnake and Pattee Canyon and the concern about wildfire risk to private properties in those areas. Because of feedback, this project will scale-up these efforts and fuel treatments to areas around Missoula.
  • Localized conversations and outreach for mechanized treatments: We also heard the desire/need for localized and targeted conversations about the application of mechanical treatments in areas around Missoula. It is our plan to host those conversations when it is appropriate. We have worked with interagency partners such as Missoula County Emergency Services, Montana State Department of Natural Resources, Missoula Rural Fire Department, and the Homeowners Association in Hayes Creek for the current proposed action. We will take what we have learned working with the Hayes Creek, Pattee Canyon, and Rattlesnake communities and apply it to our future work with other neighborhoods. This project proposes establishing shaded fuel breaks along critical access routes in specific neighborhood communities around Missoula. This work will address ingress and egress for forest visitors and first responders. 
  • Biomass: We also heard about the need for small-diameter mechanical options (biomass), so we included about 5,000 acres for small diameter biomass removal within the modified proposed action. 

11. Did the Proposed Action change between scoping and the release of the Environmental Assessment?

Answer: Based on public comment, new and future land acquisitions, and analysis by specialists, the proposed action was modified from the initial proposal last fall. The modifications focus on adding about 18,500 acres of new or soon to be acquired lands to the analysis/project area.

Acquired lands include extended boundaries in Sleeman, West Fork Lolo, Woodman, Camp, Bear Creek, and Blue Mountain areas. Within these new areas, the modified proposed action incorporates non-mechanized treatment opportunities. Additionally, several public comments requested more opportunities for small diameter wood removal (biomass) to reduce future treatment emissions and to allow for current and emerging market opportunities. Approximately 5,396 acres were added to the proposed action to allow for biomass opportunities in response to those comments.

12. When would this project be implemented?

Answer: The Forest Service has just released the Environmental Assessment for this project. The Environmental Assessment analyzes the potential impacts of implementing the project. The public is encouraged to participate in another 30-day public comment period to let us know what they think about the analysis. Based off public comment, we may alter or change parts of the project, that is why your engagement is so important in this process. Feedback helps us refine the project and eventually make a decision. Those who provide and official comment either during scoping or this public comment period will have official standing to file an objection to the project if they wish to do so.

13. What kinds of treatment methods is this project proposing?

Answer: To reduce wildfire risk and create areas where firefighters can engage wildfire, a combination of actions are proposed including non-mechanized and mechanized wildfire risk reduction fuel treatments, prescribed burning, and shaded fuel breaks. While no changes to public access are proposed, this project includes road and trail proposals for project implementation, facilitating future first responder access and evacuation routes, and removing unneeded roads from the transportation system to reduce undesirable resource impacts, and offset project impacts on watersheds.

 Non-mechanized Wildfire Risk Reduction Fuel Treatments:

  • Small Tree Thinning & Prescribed Burning
  • Hand Thinning and Piling & Prescribed Burning (Cut, Pile, Burn)
  • Hand Thinning and Prescribed Burning 
  • Prescribed Fire
  • Restoration of acquired lands
  • Grassland and meadow restoration
  • Managed wildfire

Mechanized Wildfire Risk Reduction Fuel Treatments:

  • Hand Thinning and Prescribed Burning + Incidental Mechanized Fuel Treatment
  • Mechanized Thinning and Prescribed Burning
  • Shaded Fuel break
  • Biomass Removal

14. What will the project areas look like after implementation?

Answer: It will look similar to wildfire hazard reduction work that has been ongoing within the WAM project boundary for many years in the Rattlesnake, Marshall Canyon, and Pattee Canyon areas. These demonstration areas are good examples of what treatments look like after they are completed.  In general, the low elevation forested areas around Missoula will be more open, with ponderosa pine and western larch trees spaced out.

15. Will this impact my ability to recreate in areas like Blue Mountain or Pattee Canyon?

Answer: Overall, no, although some short-term closures could affect access while implementing treatments.  For example, a trail may be temporarily closed for several days while a prescribed burn is conducted in an area.  Similar treatments implemented in the past few years in the Rattlesnake, Marshall Canyon, and Pattee Canyon have resulted in very minimal closures.

16. How do I submit a comment, engage with the project, or get more information?

Answer: We would like to encourage your participation during our 30-day public comment period. The public comment period is anticipated to begin on May 4, 2021 after the publication of the legal notice in the newspaper of record (The Missoulian). This comment period provides those interested in or affected by this proposal an opportunity to make their concerns known. Please submit written comments to Sara Rouse, Wildfire Adapted Missoula Project Leader, Missoula Ranger District, 24 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, Montana, 59804. Comments may be faxed to (406) 329-1049. Electronic comments should be submitted to comments-northern-lolo-missoula@usda.gov .  

For more information please visit the interactive Wildfire Adapted Missoula Story Map, contact Sara Rouse, Project Manager at (406) 859-8231, or visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/lolo/landmanagement/projects .