Partnership Pays Off in Blackfoot Valley

October 2008

On October 29, firefighters from the Charles M. Russell and Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuges traveled to Blackfoot Valley in western Montana, to conduct a prescribed burn as part of a project to restore native bunch grass prairie. The project took place on private property where the Service holds a perpetual conservation easement protecting a 5,000 acre ranch.

Due to the absence of historic wildfires in the valley, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees have encroached on native range which has become a significant resource concern of landowners and wildlife agencies alike. This burn was a pilot project intended to study the most cost effective method for managing conifer encroachment and to use prescribed burns as a management tool to enhance sage steppe habitat. 

Two years prior to burning, the larger trees in the area were mechanically removed and taken off site as pulp or hog fuel. The smaller conifers were masticated on site. When the area was then burned, remaining conifer seedlings were eliminated, the native bunch grass was rejuvenated, and a mosaic pattern of sagebrush resulted creating improved habitat for wildlife native to sage steppe landscapes.

Fire Management Officer Mike Granger wrote the interagency prescribed fire plan to be followed when the burn was lit.  He also served as the burn boss. Three local volunteer fire departments and the U.S. Forest Service provided the14 firefighters and necessary fire fighting equipment to conduct the burn.

Communication and development of relationships among partners were critical in the success of the project. Those involved included the landowner, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, the Blackfoot Challenge, North Powell Conservation District and its land steward, a private foundation, the Ovando, Helmville, and Seeley Volunteer Fire Departments, and the U.S. Forest Service.

engines and ATVs hold line after ignition
  smoke follows path of fire

Firefighters use engines and ATVs to hold the line after ignition crews ignited the vegetation.


Smoke drifts into the perimeter of the prescribed burn area following the path of the fire.


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