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New West Daily Roundup for Feb. 5, 2016

Credit: Larry Johnson, "Denver Skyline at Sunset," December 17, 2009

Today in New West news: Dish Network announces downtown Denver office, forest restoration slated for Ashland Ranger District, and revelations over Yellowstone’s magma plume.

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Revisiting Fire History Studies


One of the cornerstones of current forest policy is the assumption that Western forests are outside of their normal density and appearance or what is termed “historic variability.” But a new look at fire history studies may challenge that assumption.

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Hot Topic? Predictions for the 2010 Fire Season

In Montana and other parts of the Rocky Mountain West, forests are now losing the moisture stored from spring rains and drying out. The drier the material, of course, the greater potential there is for fire. Factor in lightening and campfires and summers bring a familiar haze in the mountains that surround us. In an effort to anticipate the fire patterns, the U.S. Forest Service uses a complex set of equations that result in four predictive outputs that best evaluate the potential for fire. Usually, these outputs follow a typical pattern in any given year and, using reference points of extremely high and low seasons, the USFS is able to gather information regarding spread components, energy release components and burn indices, among others.

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Smoky Skies: Missoula’s Haze From Out-of-State Fires

Missoula's air quality deteriorated between this morning and this afternoon, and as of 2 p.m. was listed as "moderate." (To check air quality at the Health Department's web page, click here.) The Missoula City-County Health Department said this afternoon that the smoky haze in the city air is from wildfires in British Columbia, Alaska, Washington and Oregon, as well as from smaller fires in Idaho and Montana. The health department says "very sensitive" individuals might want to consider limiting their exposure and avoid prolonged exertion outside. Editor's note: this story is an update.

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New Report Questions Fire Plan Logging

A new report on the effectiveness of thinning forests under the National Fire Plan shows that most logging occurs far from communities, thus questioning their effectiveness. Plus the majority of lands that should be treated lie not on federal lands, but private lands. The report gives new credence to critics such as myself who maintain that most fuel reduction logging operations are wasting tax dollars and causing more harm than good.

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Firefighting Needs Major Overhaul, Study Shows

Wildfire prevention efforts should focus far more on homeowners and key ecosystems -- and far less on random fires deep in the wilderness, according to a new study by the University of Montana, University of Colorado and Colorado State University. The study -- which calls for an overhaul of the National Fire Plan --takes a hard look at federal efforts to prevent wildfires that are increasingly scorching the West and threatening homes near forests and wilderness. Only 11 percent of National Fire Plan wildfire-mitigation efforts in the last five years have occurred near people’s homes or offices, where it's critically needed, the researchers conclude.

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Rural Growth, Climate and the Wildland-Urban Interface

Photo courtesy of Montana DNRC.

The wildfire issue is a pressing one in the New West. Fire seasons are getting longer and drier by the year, fires are more severe, and, to top it off, the modern western migration is bringing an unprecedented influx of homes into the wildland-urban interface (WUI). As wildland fire suppression operations increasingly consume dwindling Forest Service budgets and taxpayers grow ever wearier of footing the pricey bill of defending homes in the WUI, the onus for preparation and protection is increasingly falling on homeowners and local communities. In 2006, interested parties from the public and private sector gathered in Helena at the Montana Communities and Wildfire Conference to begin a new discussion on the WUI and the West’s changing fire seasons. According to organizers, participants expressed overwhelming support for the formation of a non-governmental non-profit to perform public education, outreach and on-the-ground assistance in wildfire mitigation in the WUI. The result is FireSafe Montana, which held its first annual conference in Bozeman this week.

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Climate Change Impacts More Than Glacier’s Glaciers

A mountain goat along the Hidden Lake Overlook trail in Glacier National Park. Photo by David Restivo, courtesy of Glacier National Park.

Thanks to a changing climate, not only may Glacier National Park need a new name, but eventually a new mascot. The park’s iconic mountain goats are already feeling the impacts of climate change, said Dan Fagre, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Glacier National Park. “This is ironic because the mountain goat is the icon of Glacier National Park,” Fagre told a mixed crowd of students and community members at the University of Montana Tuesday night. Mountain goats are not the only species impacted by a changing climate. Rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns will provide some species opportunity expand their range, while others will shrink or die out altogether.

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Sawmill Complex Fire Daily Update: Sept. 10

Quick Fire Facts Location: 22 miles SE of Missoula, MT Approximate Size: 62,650 acres Increase since last update: None Fire Containment: 35% Start Date: July 31, 2007 Cause: Lightning Incident Commander: Tom Heintz Resources on the Fire: 5 crews 3 helicopters 6 water tenders 13 engines Total Personnel: 262 Est. Containment Date: Unknown Cooperating Agencies: USFS, Montana DNRC, BLM Landowners: ...

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Sawmill Complex Fire Daily Update: Sept. 8

Rock Creek Road will re-open to the public at 7 a.m. today. After the road reopens, National Guard units will be released from their duties maintaining road closures. Upper Willow Creek Road (Granite County) is open to residents only. Roads in the Stony Creek area remain closed due to firefighting activities in the area. Area closures on the Lolo, Beaverhead-Deerlodge, ...

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