Time to Consider the Swan Resource Management Study

It is undeniable that forest fuels in the Swan Valley have reached astonishing levels

By Marc Racicot

I have recently become aware of the Swan Resource Study undertaken by the Lake County Conservation District. Having been born and raised in Western Montana, and now a property owner in the Swan Lake area, I have, like every other Montanan, a keen interest in the conservation of wildlife habitat, soil, water resources and forests throughout our entire state, and most especially in the Swan Valley.

Having been involved with the management of state lands for over a decade, I am profoundly aware of the responsibility to carefully steward public resources to preserve them for the citizens of our state and nation as well as for the generations of those who come after us.

The Swan Resource Management Study has initiated public discussions focused on the management of public resources with a new and unique approach. The objectives are to: enhance the health of our forests, prevent catastrophic wildfires, preserve clean water, fisheries and wildlife habitat, avoid the sterilization of soils resulting from the searing heat of raging fires and create a funding mechanism for Lake County conservation efforts through the careful, prudent, selective and sustainable harvest of some of those trees in the conservation forest that have reached maturity and have commercial value.

The plan submitted for discussion involves the creation of a conservation forest comprised of 60,000 acres within the boundaries of Lake County and the Flathead National Forest to be managed in trust by the State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), which, along with its predecessor agencies, has managed state forest lands, now composed of 780,000 acres, for over 125 years.

Public access to the conservation forest would, of course, remain the same, and management of that forest would follow the same strict guidelines that presently govern the management of state forest lands pursuant to a Habitat Conservation Plan. Working pursuant to the strictures of that plan, DNRC would manage the conservation forest, as it manages state forests now, with a defined focus upon the recovery of endangered species, prevention of future listings and efforts to strengthen the link between species conservation and trust land management.

It is undeniable that forest fuels in the Swan Valley have reached astonishing levels. We know, unequivocally, that when those landscapes suffer the consequences of explosive and horrific fires, the damage and destruction endured by people, animals, fish and wildlife are almost impossible to describe and quantify. But, there’s something we can do to minimize, and in many instances eliminate, the only consequences of doing nothing we have all witnessed virtually every year, namely the wholesale destruction of natural resources critically important to all of us.

As a result, I would like to strongly encourage the Lake County Conservation District to continue to explore the possibility of finding a new way to genuinely and effectively manage natural resources shared by all of us through the creation and management of a conservation forest as described in the Swan Resource Management Study. And I would like to urge my fellow citizens to carefully and patiently review the proposal of the District, as it exists now, and as it evolves with their engagement, insights and recommendations. Comments and suggestions are encouraged and can be sent to swanforestinitiative.org, swanstudy@gmail.com or 64352 US Highway 93, Ronan, MT 59864.

Marc Racicot
Former Montana governor

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