Fire and Flood Season, a View from Montana
Most years May/June is the time we start to worry about Fire and Flood. If there is a heavy snowpack the worry is about a June flood, if a low snowpack the worry about a long fire season.
With a huge $7-B wildfire (that is still burning) in Alberta, Canada and one good-sized fire already in The Bob Marshall Wilderness (Montana) it seems like fire is going to be the big worry this year. The North Fork River has already peaked this year.
But, do not bet the Ranch on that.
Yes, the river was muddy for a day or two in the warm weather before turning Green again. One shot of muddy water does not mean that runoff is finished.
Teakettle Mountain may be bare but there is a lot of snow in the high country. Red Meadow and Trail Creek roads are still blocked by snow indicating plenty of snow on the Whitefish Divide and Glacier’s Peaks are still white with snow.
In fact, although this was a light Winter in the valley, snowpack in the mountains was just about normal. And, the big factor in whether or not if we have a flood, it is the snowfall in the Winter and how it melts. So far the the weather is great and flooding may not happen this year. Warm weather to melt the snow followed by freezing slows it down.
Local residents are betting the river will peak in early June, as it usually does, and only unusually warm weather combined with heavy rain like in Y’s 1948 and 1964 could cause severe flooding.
Fire, not that is another matter.
Years of failure to manage fuels in the forest brought Montana major fires in Y’s 1988, 2001 and 2003. Those big swathes of blackened forest have reduced fire danger in The North Fork except along the flanks of those fires where dead and fallen trees like Glacier Rim in Y 2015 provide areas of heavy tinder fuel.
North of the Wedge Canyon Fire residents and the state and federal agencies have done a lot of fuel management to reduce the threat of a really big fire and work in other areas has helped some.
Fuel management is not a one time thing, it is ongoing. Locals have to work to keep their property as free as possible from everything that can help feed a forest fire. Plus, there has to be ongoing thinning projects and there is always a lot to do for the responsible home/property owners in the wild country.
We will always have wildfire. But, to avoid the big fires that burn thousands of acres the community, citizens and government must aggressively manage the trees to provide a mixed-age forest, wildlife diversity, and multiple recreational opportunities and a viable timber industry.
Remember, when living, camping, and traveling it the forest and Fire Danger zone always take extreme care, lives and property depend on it.
Have a terrific week.
By Larry Wilson
Paul Ebeling, Editor