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Missoula awards forest thinning project on Mt. Jumbo as Red Lodge fire burns

The Robertson Draw fire near Red Lodge grew to several thousand acres, prompting evacuations around the community. City officials in Missoula want to avoid a similar situation in Missoula and will conduct thinning on Mt. Jumbo. (US Forest Service)

With the fire danger ticking up in Missoula and several fires already burning across the region, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday approved a $45,000 contract to conduct a thinning project on Mount Jumbo and in Marshall Canyon.

The project, awarded to Watershed Consulting LLC, continues a forest management plan detailed in the Mount Jumbo Forest Management Plan on Critical Elk Winter Range, which the city adopted back in 2014.

Jeff Gicklhorn, the conservation lands program manager with Missoula Parks and Recreation, said the work will take place on four separate parcels.

“Watershed has an option to also do work on private property adjacent to our property,” Gicklhorn said. “I got an email from a property owner who is interested in joining forces to make their thinning work and our thinning work more effectively.”

Mt. Jumbo is the largest contiguous piece of conservation land the city manages with the goal of preserving and improving native habitats while protecting natural resources.

The city also designated the land as a preserve in 2010, in part due to the elk herd the uses the site as critical winter habitat. Between 50 and 100 elk migrate to the site each winter, in part due to Mt. Jumbo’s forage and forest cover.

The property also lies in the urban interface, and establishing an adequate fire break is critical, city officials said. Watershed Consulting will conduct the thinning this summer and burn slash in the fall or early spring.

“The Jumbo fuel breaks are near private forest land that we have been managing for years,” Watershed stated in its application. “We have secured exclusive access through these private ownerships to the city project area. Knowing the city desires a fuel break in these locations, we can modify our thinning on private ground to make the fuel breaks more effective.”

On Tuesday night, the Robertson Draw fire near Red Lodge grew to 21,000 acres, prompting evacuations around the community. City officials in Missoula want to avoid a similar situation in Missoula by thinning city land.

“I’ll be happy to get more thinning work done close to town,” said City Council member Amber Sherrill “And I like the fact there’s a private land owner doing some collaboration with us.”