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Forest Service plans fuel breaks for Lion Hill, East Side Road

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | September 13, 2023 2:00 AM

The Forest Service is proposing three different fuel breaks in the Flathead Valley as a way to stem future wildfires near homes.

The local fuel break — the Lion Hill fuel break would be located along Lion Hill Road (Forest Service Road No. 5311) and South Fork Flathead Road (Forest Service Road No. 38) just south of Martin City. It’s designed to slow a wildfire that could approach Martin City or Hungry Horse — much like the Ridge Fire did this summer.

The breaks would cover about four miles total along Lion Hill Road and the East Side Road.

“Every linear foot of that 4 miles is not proposed for treatment in this proposal, as past Forest Service projects have already treated areas in the vicinity of this project. The proposed treatments within the Lion Hill Fuel Break will essentially connect the dots, and subsequently create a continuous fuel break along the proposed location,” project manager Gary Blazejewski explained in an email to the Hungry Horse News.

The other two are on the Tally Lake Ranger District, one along Ashley Lake and the other along the Good Creek Road.

Combined, they amount to 1,708 acres. The projects are utilizing Section 40806 in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to reduce hazardous fuels in strategic locations, the Forest Service said in a release. The law authorizes the construction of fuel breaks adjacent to existing features including roads, trails, powerlines, or similar infrastructure.

Fuel breaks do not cut down all the trees, but remove the understory and leave the mature trees which create a shaded break.

The shaded break is designed to keep an approaching fire on the ground, where it’s easier to fight.

Since the breaks are less than 1,000 feet wide and are less than 3,000 acres total, the law allows them to be completed through a categorical exclusion — which means no formal environmental review.

Most of the projects would use mechanical thinning — about 1,200 acres. The remaining 500 acres would utilize mechanical/hand thinning.

There are homes within a short distance of all of the fuel breaks, known as the Wildland Urban Interface.

People can comment on the projects until Sept. 21.

To provide electronic comments and learn more about the Project, and to learn more about the Project’s location, purpose and need, and proposed actions, please visit the project website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/flathead/?project=64699. The “Get Connected” menu on the right side of the page provides an option to comment as well as an option to subscribe to email updates. Comments should include your name, address, telephone number and (if applicable) the name of the organization you represent.   

If you wish to mail written comments, please address them to: Flathead National Forest, Attn: Gary Blazejewski – Flathead Fuel Break Project, PO Box 190340, Hungry Horse, MT 59919. Comments may also be hand delivered weekdays 8 a.m. -4:30 p.m. at the Tally Lake and Hungry Horse District offices.

If you have questions, please contact Gary Blazejewski by telephone at 406-387-3827 or by email at gary.blazejewski@usda.gov.