By Suzy Foss, Ravalli County Commissioner, Hamilton
Over a week ago I called for a meeting with all of our emergency management partners to start a discussion concerning possibilities the coming spring thaw might bring. We have not had a snow load like this since before the fires of 2000. In 2001 we had several significant landslides, some fire impacted areas were hit repeatedly. The flooding of last week came even sooner than anticipated and we are far from being out of the woods depending upon the next several months of weather.
We received a report from the Bitterroot National Forest acting supervisor who shared requested data on the status of the BNF. The forest is 1.6 million acres. 73% of the Bitterroot Valley is federally controlled BNF. The news was disquieting to say the least. In the past 14 years, 765,000 acres of the BNF have burned. That is approximately 45% of the forest. Our watershed and the needed ground cover to protect it during spring run off has been compromised and certainly any drainage below a fire area from the last three years may see a faster than desired runoff.
It is my commitment that while we cannot stop these events we can plan now for any needed response and certainly prepare ourselves for educating our citizens and notifying them promptly should issues arise. Additionally we need to dust off the Emergency Response/Disaster Plan for the county and update it. Most importantly make sure all stakeholders know it inside and out.
Now is the time to address the various situations that can impact us this coming year, not wait for them to happen. We can only hope that with this abundance of snow we might be saved from wildfire this coming season. Regardless, the county will keep you all informed of issues as they present themselves. I want you to know that we Commissioners and all of our emergency responders will be there for you when situations arise.
We have had great success in dealing with wildfire, however, it seems to me that this is the time to stop procrastinating and start doing the work to prevent them. Same goes for rehabbing our burned areas and protecting our watershed. We have a willing partner in the USFS as well as a great resource with RC&D. Now we need citizens to step up and work with us to make our county a Firewise Community.
Lastly, thank you to all of the emergency responders, our outstanding road department crews, and our fellow citizens for all of your assistance during the flooding events that hit the Bitterroot last week. It is a pleasure to be a part of such a wonderful and caring community.