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Red Lodge Mountain fire prevention project thins trees in public-private partnership; Changes visual landscape

Public portion of Red Lodge Mountain fuel Reduction Project expected to begin in 2025
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Posted at 11:50 AM, May 19, 2024

RED LODGE - There's no question Red Lodge has dynamic views. Those views have changed over the years due to natural disasters like wildfires and floods. The views are about to change once again. This time it’s a proactive project aimed at protecting the ski mountain and the city.

“The easiest way to define it is we look West here, you can see most of the treatments start up in the forested stands, the conifer forest stands,” says Drew Grimes, Beartooth Ranger District Fuel Specialist as he points on the map, then to the mountain. “So as we look towards Red Lodge Mountain, you can kind of see the beginning of the forest."

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Just above that forest line is where the public portion of the Red Lodge Mountain fuel Reduction Project starts with tree-thinning surrounding Red Lodge Mountain and up the west fork of Rock Creek towards Wild Bill Lake.

The goal: Protecting Red Lodge and its economic driver from devastating wildfires.

“If we have no trees, we have no business. As most people know, Red Lodge is a pretty windy place, and we need windbreaks. We can always build new lifts or buildings, but we can’t build a new forest. It takes many years," says Jeff Schmidt, general manager at Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area. “Our payroll is over four million bucks and our economic impact to the county is pushing eight million dollars, so we want to keep it going, keep the forest healthy.”

Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area and a few private ranches on the back side of the mountain make up the private portion of this tree-thinning, wildfire mitigation project, with a total of 600 acres treated since 2022.

“This would be part of their (U.S. Forest Service) project. If you look over there, that’s the boundary,” says Schmidt.

However, raging wildfires like the 2021 Robertson Draw Fire near Red Lodge have no bounds, and that has the forest service scheduled to thin 1900 acres of forest starting in 2025 once official approval is granted in August 2024. It’s a project Beartooth District Ranger Amy Haas says is much needed.

“The forest service has done an amazing job of suppressing fires over the last 100 years with the Smokey Bear campaign and putting fires out before 10:00 a.m. With that, there’s just dense vegetation,” Haas said.

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Smokey Bear Campaign 1980's

“Remember, only you can prevent forest fires,” as the end of a vintage Smokey Bear commercial plays on a laptop.

Thanks to this collaborative project, if a fire sparks, it should be more easily contained and safer for first responders.

“Our crews at Red Lodge Fire Rescue, which work with the forest service, have the same objective, which is to improve forest health and reduce fire risk,” says Jon Trapp, Assistant Fire Chief with Red Lodge Fire Rescue.

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“It's going to give our residents, our community a chance to not only withstand another fire event but to survive it and really get through it in a successful manner,” says Bill Bullock, Carbon County Commissioner Red Lodge District.