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People recreating around Hyalite and Bozeman creeks this year could see trucks, equipment, smoke and short-term area closures as crews work on the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project.

Officials with the Custer Gallatin National Forest shared details about the fuels reduction project at a virtual public meeting this week.

Starting this spring, Forest Service crews and contractors plan to start burning, thinning and logging approximately 4,700 acres of National Forest between the Hyalite and Bozeman creek drainages.

The goal is to protect Bozeman’s water supply, as around 80% of the city’s drinking water comes from Hyalite and Bozeman creeks. Officials worry debris and sediment from a severe fire in the Gallatin range could clog intake structures and degrade the city’s water.

The Forest Service also wants to create more defensible space around homes in the wildland urban interface. They believe removing dense fuels will make it safer for firefighters to respond to wildfires in the area.

“The threat and the risk of wildfire is incredibly real. We all live in Montana. We all know that,” said Corey Lewellen, Bozeman district ranger for the Custer Gallatin National Forest. “And for those of us who were here last fall, we most certainly saw that with the Bridger Foothills fire.”

The Forest Service plans to start some prescribed fires this spring, though moving ahead with burning is contingent on weather and fuel conditions, Lewellen said.

First, officials need a strategic burn plan based on local, regional and national conditions. They also need to make sure sufficient firefighting resources are available to ensure the flames are contained.

While crews light and monitor controlled burns in the mountains, people in the Gallatin Valley will see smoke, Lewellen said. He anticipates smoky conditions won’t last long.

Caleb Schreiber, assistant fire management officer for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, said some prescribed burning could occur before June 16. It could occur again in the fall, depending on weather windows.

Officials hope to burn around the Langohr Campground area this spring or fall. Areas east of Bozeman Creek likely won’t be burned this year, according to Schreiber.

Hand crews plan to start thinning smaller diameter trees around Leverich Gulch and Moser ridge in June. This work will likely conclude around August, Schreiber said.

Lewellen said he doesn’t expect active logging will start this summer. Instead, contractors will spend the time building temporary roads so logging equipment can make it up to Moser Ridge and other areas later.

Logging of larger-diameter trees could begin this fall.

“You’ll definitely see some smoke. You’re going to see a lot of crews on the landscape,” Lewellen said about activities this summer.

People should expect to hear noise from chainsaws and see timber piles, especially around the Leverich Gulch Trail. The Forest Service may issue short-term area closures to ensure public safety at certain times, he said.

The city of Bozeman plans to start work on the Sourdough Fuels Reduction Project in conjunction with the Forest Service’s project in July, according to Brian Heaston, senior water resources engineer for the city of Bozeman.

Crews will start to cut down large-diameter trees on a few hundred acres of city-owned land by the Sourdough Creek Trail, he said.

“We recognize that this is going to be a big change on the landscape,” Lewellen said.

Lewellen urged members of the public to be cautious on National Forest lands while the work goes on. He invited people to check the Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project website for updates on activities.

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

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