Hungry Horse and West Glacier Fuels Reduction Stewardship Project

John Ingebretson, Assistant Fire Management Officer – Fuels
Swan Lake Ranger District, Flathead National Forest

Project Design

The Hungry Horse and West Glacier Fuels Reduction Project will reduce fuels on approximately 200 acres of the Flathead National Forest immediately adjacent to private land, helping to create defensible space around homes. Treatments, including thinning and prescribed burning, are focused within 500 feet of private property boundaries in the area between, and including, Hungry Horse and West Glacier, Montana. This project utilizes the goods for services, retained receipts, best value contracting, and designation by description stewardship authorities. The Flathead Forestry Project (a local collaborative group) is currently administering a National Fire Plan grant to treat fuels on private lands adjacent to Forest Service activities and elsewhere in the Hungry Horse to West Glacier corridor.

Lessons Learned

What went well

Picture of mechanical clipper equipment cutting small trees in a forest stand.
Clipper equipment in operation.

This project provided an excellent opportunity to work with the community and the Flathead Forestry Project to:

  • Plan and implement treatments on National Forest lands consistent with those on adjacent private lands;
  • Provide demonstrations of fuel reduction and stewardship contracting along an easily accessible major interstate travel corridor to raise public awareness of Forest Service wildfire risk reduction activities and show what individual landowners can do to protect their own properties;
  • Use a variety of types of contracts and specifications to accomplish fuel treatments with and without commercial products.

This stewardship project is located in an area with intermixed Forest Service and private lands. Implementing this project required clipper equipment used in thinning, crossing private lands to reach National Forest System lands. This resulted in an immediate relationship between the agency and the landowners. Area residents were interested in and agreeable to discussing project objectives, purpose and need, ecological consequences, visual aspects, and long-term project goals. The most effective way of conducting this discussion was through one on one conversation, generally on or near the project site. Local landowners wanted to be involved in a meaningful way and were clear that they did not want to waste their time.

We found that by incorporating a presentation of our proposed project into a community-sponsored meeting, or event we reached more people than when we hosted our own public meetings. Community leaders are pleased to invite us to such gatherings and the meetings are generally well attended by interested individuals, including representatives from the business community, civic officeholders, fire chiefs, and colleagues from other agencies.

This project has helped the Forest staff reconnect with our neighbors, who live literally just across the fence. This connection needs to be promoted and encouraged and continued, even after the project is finished. Promoting such community relationships is a challenge that, as an agency, we should sincerely embrace and pursue.

What we would do different next time

Picture of the results of thinning the trees around a house displaying greater spacing between trees and limbs on the ground.
Thinning around a house.

The collaborative process takes time. In future stewardship projects, we will begin collaboration earlier in the process and involve a larger segment of the community. For example, the Rural Fire Chiefs might have been more involved in treatment location and prioritization at an earlier stage. We also could have spent more time with adjacent landowners.

The stewardship contracting process tends to be interpreted somewhat differently by the Forest Service District staff, contractors, and our collaborative groups, creating confusion. The stewardship contracting process should be clear to all involved parties and agency policy changes should be shared in a timely manner.

Describing clearly to contractors and the public what post-treatment conditions (desired end result) will look like is a challenge. We need to find better ways to illustrate, for example, what ‘free-thinning’ might look like. We also need to fully explain how project work will be accomplished, such as how much smoke and from what direction this smoke will travel, from prescribed burning.

For further information about our collaborative efforts, contact John Ingebretson, Flathead National Forest at (406) 837-7518.