Thursday, March 6, 2008

Appropriate Management Response in Montana

The Clark Fork Chronicle has a story about a debate going on in Montana about the role of the US Forest Service on interface fires. Here is an excerpt.
U.S. Forest Service officials will not formally respond to recommendations that Montana fire chiefs offered last month to the legislature's interim study committee. But officials emphasized to the Chronicle that the protection of homes and outbuildings--structure protection--remains near the very top of firefighters' priorities.

The top priority, always, is life safety--the safety of firefighters and the public, explained Chuck Stanich, the fire management officer for the Lolo National Forest.

"Life safety we hold in highest regard on every fire, every time, everywhere," Chuck said. "Once we take care of that, then we go to the next priority."

The next priorities are typically protecting the community's "values at risk," which usually include structures, and other cultural and natural resources, such as watersheds.

Those objectives and priorities are established in discussions long before the first start of the fire season, documented in formal plans and agreements, and communicated across a wide range of federal, state, and local firefighting partners, Chuck explained.

Frenchtown Fire's Scott Waldron appeared in Helena earlier this month to present the state fire chiefs' report, and offered his perspective on the Black Cat Fire in response to the committee's questions. He alleged that Forest Service firefighters were not allowed to engage in structure protection, and testified that the agency's policy of "Appropriate Management Response" could endanger communities.

Without directly addressing Waldron's statements, Forest Service officials said they hoped to clear up any possible misconceptions about Forest Service policy.

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