Forest Service crews are planning to burn more than 6,700 acres of timberland in the Bitterroot National Forest in the coming weeks.

But it's all prescribed burning to prevent a lot more from burning during wildfire season.

Bitterroot National Forest managers have plans for operations on more than a dozen different units, stretching from Sula to Florence.

Why are the burns used to fight fire?

Prescribed burning has been a fire management tool for decades. But recent research is showing its importance in reducing hazardous fuels, which cause wildfires to burn with more intensity, especially in the hot, dry summers we've seen in the Northern Rockies over the past decade.

Additionally, they say the fires create better wildlife habitats, with open forests that are also healthier, allowing for the growth of more desirable species like native pines, which are more fire resistant. The frequent, low-intensity fires can keep forest stands from catching in much larger fire-threatening Bitterroot communities.

6,713 acres targeted for treatment

Over 2,400 acres will be burned in the Stevensville Ranger District, including areas west of Victor and Florence. 2,366 acres will be burned on the West Fork, including south of Trapper Creek, and the Upper Nez Ecoburn including Shepherd Creek and near Fales Flat Campground.

Other areas set for burns on the Darby/Sula Ranger District are near Lake Como, west of Conner, and east of Sula.

The fires this year could be easily visible from main highways.

Bitterroot NF photo
Bitterroot NF photo

It all depends on the weather

Underburning operations for the Bitterroot National Forest could begin as soon as next week, although it depends entirely upon the weather. Conditions must be right for thorough burning, and keeping smoke under control as much as possible.

"Winter has a tight grip on Montana this year. Windows are likely to be compressed with green-up quickly chasing the eventual spring weather. It will be our focus through May to take every opportunity possible to safely implement prescribed burns." -David Tingle, Bitterroot N.F. Fuels Fire Management Officer

Recreational forest users are asked to watch for fire crews and vehicles and stay out of those areas while prescribed burns are underway.

Maps have been posted, with more information on the Discover Bitterroot National Forest Facebook page.

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