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Forest health and wildfire safety



By Brad Bauer Explore Big Sky Contributor

With the snow barely clinging to your yard or hiding in the shade, it’s hard to think about summer wildfires. But as with most things, a little forward thinking can go a long way. Whether you hang your hat in a cabin deep in the woods or a house in the open valley, keep wildfire in the back of your mind.

Providing a level of home safety from wildfire – whether a grass or forest – is a great excuse to evaluate the health of the trees you cherish for summer shade and winter shelter. Wherever you live, now is an ideal time to see how your trees fared during the winter. Did your evergreens suffer from broken tops or browning of needles? How about your deciduous trees? Without summer leaves, you can easily see if your deciduous trees have broken branches or need pruning.

While evaluating your trees’ health and developing a plan to remedy any problems, consider actions that can improve the forest’s health and your property’s resistance to wildfire. Around your house and other structures, you can do some simple tasks with basic tools such as a bow saw and hand pruners.

Pruning low branches around the house is a great place to start. Focus your efforts on evergreens and remove lower branches from either the first 12 feet or one-third the height of the tree, whichever is a lesser distance. This creates space below trees where a fire is less likely to climb into treetops.

While you have the bow saw and pruners out, think about removing the smaller conifer trees mixed in with your larger trees. This bit of thinning creates space and healthier trees by freeing more water and nutrients for the trees that you leave. If you thin enough, you could reduce the risk of a wildfire moving from tree to tree.

How about those deciduous trees in your yard – what can you do with them to help the forest health and improve wildfire safety?

No matter if the tree is a deciduous or evergreen, providing space between your home and trees will help improve your home’s wildfire safety. Dead trees leaning over a road may become barriers during an emergency, and by removing them you’re providing the remaining trees with more space to grow and be healthy.

Brad Bauer is an MSU Extension – Gallatin County Natural Resource Extension Agent who focuses on natural resources management, education, and outreach.

Every forest, yard and windbreak is different and MSU Extension – Gallatin County can help you evaluate and discuss your options. Financial assistance is also available. Call them at (406) 388-3213 or stop by their office at 201 West Madison Avenue, Suite 300 in Belgrade.

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