American Fork fire

A view of the American Fork fire on July 18.

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Montana’s governor promoted a bipartisan federal bill that would ramp up forest management at a press conference about the state’s 2021 wildland fire response.

“We must work together to actively and meaningfully manage our lands to reduce the risk of wildfires,” said Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte. “The benefits of active forest management are clear. We get healthier forests, improved wildlife habitat, enhanced recreational opportunities, more good-paying jobs and, most importantly, higher forest fire resiliency.”

Gianforte and Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines at Wednesday’s conference touted the bipartisan Resilient Federal Forests Act. The bill aims to increase forest management by streamlining the environmental review process and bypassing lawsuits against timber projects.

“Until we stop the frivolous litigation, we’re never going to get to where we need to be here in terms of treatment of our national forests,” Daines said.

Gianforte said the bill would support proactive, science-based forest management, and the state has identified more than 9 million acres of forest land that are at an elevated risk of wildfire.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is engaged in efforts to double the number of acres it treats per year to 25,000 acres, Gianforte said. The state also invested in 14 cross-boundary forest management projects around Montana.

The governor’s words came after fire managers wrote that crews had contained 58% of the American Fork fire’s perimeter. The wildfire burning in the Crazy Mountains about 24 miles southwest of Harlowton had torched 21,876 acres by Wednesday. More than 200 people were responding to it.

Hand crews, engines and heavy equipment spent the day securing line on the fire’s southern and western flanks. Crews were building and improving containment lines and mopping up. Shields River Road in Park County and the Smith Creek area in Meagher County remained under pre-evacuation notice.

The 55,411 acre Woods Creek fire about 16 miles northeast of Townsend was 61% contained by Wednesday morning. Crews that day were containing and mopping up hotspots, patrolling the fire perimeter and attacking the wildfire directly.

The area south of Burt Ranch Road and west of Camas Creek Road near the fire’s eastern flank was in pre-evacuation status on Wednesday. Pre-evacuation notices were in effect for Grassy Mountain residents along Birky Road and Ramspeck Lane, according to fire managers.

The 2021 fire season has been one of Montana’s hottest and driest.

Firefighters on Wednesday were confronting 50 active fires throughout the state. Close to 2,100 fires have burned over 825,000 acres in Montana this year. It’s the largest area burned since 2017, the governor said.

“These wildfires threaten the safety of our communities and first responders, devastate our local economies and have cost the taxpayers of Montana $45 million since July 1,” Gianforte said. “While we are grateful our prayers were answered with the recent rain and cooler temperatures, we all know the season is not over yet.”

Gianforte urged Montanans to help prevent new starts by securing their trailer chains and maintaining their equipment. He also urged residents to prepare their properties for wildfire and develop evacuation plans.

Amanda Kaster, Montana DNRC’s director, on Wednesday said: “Fire season is not over. We still have several weeks ahead of us, but I remain confident in the efforts of many who are working tirelessly and around the clock across the state to keep our communities, ways of life and natural resources safe from wildfire,”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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