The South Plateau Project on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest will help reduce the threat of wildfire and protect the beauty of the landscape and wildlife found in the area. It deserves the public’s support.
The 39,000-acre South Plateau Project area is located south and west of West Yellowstone, Montana, and includes the Lower, Middle, and Upper South Fork Madison River watersheds. The project area is bordered by the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail on the west and Yellowstone National Park on the east. This area receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and they deserve a safe visit, free from wildfire and forests with dead and dying trees.
The Forest is proposing to implement a series of activities to reduce the risk or extent of catastrophic wildfire and increase the resiliency to insect and disease infestation while providing wood products to local mills. Catastrophic wildfires have been prevalent in recent years across the Custer-Gallatin National Forest and adjoining Yellowstone National Park. For example, the Ashland Ranger District has seen over 60 percent of its forests destroyed by wildfire in the past decade.
The Project area is also included in the Gallatin County Community Wildfire Protection Plan which was developed in 2006 and updated in 2019 through a cooperative process. The overall mission of the Gallatin County CWPP is to protect against loss of life, property, and natural resources as the result of wildland fire. A recent survey of the Fire Regime classes in this area indicates most of the acres are in Fire Regime 5, which is the highest rating.
The fire risk is exacerbated in the South Plateau area where currently there is a 93% probability of a high severity of mountain pine beetle outbreak during the next period of beneficial climate (usually a long-term drought period). Additionally, lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe is widespread throughout the project area. Virtually all stands of mature lodgepole pine that were surveyed or observed have some level of mistletoe. As you may recall it was the beetle infected stands of dead lodgepole pine in Yellowstone National Park that were devastated by wildfire in the late 1980’s and are still recovering.
Unfortunately, not all members of the public want to see the area treated for fuels reduction, forest health, and improvements to wildlife habitat. The intent of these groups is not to provide protection for wildlife, but rather to look for flaws in the Forest Service’s planning process so they can take the Service to court and stop the project.
The public is often the silent majority when it comes to speaking up for good sound projects like South Plateau and this is one we cannot stand idly why while others try to stop it.
Tom Partin is the Montana representative for the American Forest Resource Council, a trade association advocating for active forest management on federal lands. Partin has worked in forestry in the Pacific Northwest for over 40 years.