Just a hundred and fifty years ago bison, wapiti, bighorn sheep, pronghorns and deer cleared the grasses driving eastern Montana's fire season. If grasses remained in the fall tribes burned the rest.
But, in the mid-Nineteenth Century the US Army brought cheatgrass to the high plains and Missouri River basin.
There is general agreement that America’s landscapes, certainly its wildlands, are out of whack with their fires. For 50 years after the Great Fires of 1910 traumatized the U.S. Forest Service, the country committed to a program of what we might call fire resistance. It sought both to quit lighting fires and to extinguish every fire that did occur before it could grow large and damaging. Ponderosa forests, for example, have generally become overgrown with understories of young trees that can carry fire from the surface to the canopy – a revived fire but not one that allows the ponderosa to survive. It now appears that while restoration may be a permanent principle, one widely adopted, it is not a transcendent one. [Stephen Pyne, Recreating forests of the past isn't enough to fix our wildfire problem]Disturbed soils can allow the growth of plants that had been introduced by European settlers. After a century of destructive ranching practices invasive grasses infest the upper Plains and sage steppe.
Cost to We the People for managing the 2013 Pautre Fire was about $1 million. No livestock were lost and there was minimal damage to fences. 3,519 acres of federal and 7,160 acres of private property were cleared of invasive grasses. The US Forest Service knew an advancing cold front would aid the clearing of foot-high grasses and mowed a fire break instead of using a disk to make a fire line so the prescribed fire escaped. There were no injuries and the only structure lost was a derelict rural schoolhouse.
Snow showers ended the fire then Republican ranchers sued the Obama Administration.
This blog has been advocating prescribed burns since February for the upper Missouri basin.
Just south of the threatened Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument Montana's lightning-caused 270,000-acre Lodgepole Complex is mostly contained in Petroleum and Garfield counties after growing into the nation's largest wildfire last week. According to the Bureau of Land Management domestic livestock losses within the Complex area were far fewer than anticipated. Some rain has fallen and that entire area will be green in two weeks.
The Trump Organization initially denied disaster assistance to compensate for the costs associated with structure protection but caved after Republican ranchers wailed in protest.
Damned if We the People do fuel treatments, damned if the gods do them.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could have saved a load of dough paying Montana to set prescribed fires before the incident.
Several new fires are burning in SE Montana.
It's really frustrating that the conservative-leaning Billings Gazette and the other media covering the blaze have done such a shitty job contrasting eastern Montana under Trump with that same beat under Obama. Most are guilty of whitewashing the Trump White House responses to the needs in eastern Montana where Trump won overwhelmingly.
Fire seasons come and they go but the Gazette nearly always lands on the side of the Montana Republican Party.
It's rank hypocrisy.