Many people like me have chosen to live within a forested environment for many reasons; clean air, wildlife, just the beauty of living in a forest. Geographically speaking we are a part of a growing entity that is the “Wildland Urban Interface” and what one inherits is the responsibility of maintaining this “living asset” so it remains vibrant and viable for decades to come. This is known as Forest Stewardship.

Even with snow on the ground it’s not too early to invest your time, energy into keeping your forest healthy and safe.

There are 3 main elements that lead to and exacerbate wildland fires:

  1. Extreme Weather: We don’t have much control over the weather and nothing new here – dry, hot and windy weather are prime conditions for wildfire.
  2. Extreme Topography: It’s important to point out that fire usually travels more quickly going uphill so living on a high point should influence how you manage your forest in those areas.
  3. Extreme Fuel:  You do have control over the amount of fuel that exists around your home and on your property. Aside from the materials that your home is constructed of forest fuels is dead trees and branches, dense shrubbery, etc., all of which are common components of a NW Montana forest and could easily add to fire intensity if not dealt with properly. Addressing this is called fuel reduction.

Create a Survivable Space; this is defined in the “Homeowners’ Firesafe Guide For Montana”, as “the modification of landscape design, fuels, and building materials that make a home ignition caused by wildfire unlikely, even without direct firefighter intervention.” The survivable space is broken down into 4 zones, which I describe below and will hopefully help you the property owner, in taking a pro active approach to managing your own forest.


Zone 1: Intensive Fuel Reduction Zone; This is the area immediately surrounding your home, where you can get out and get something done right now.  Zone 1 is the area 30 feet directly around the house and requires the maximum modification and treatment for fuel reduction. Basically you want to reduce the amount of flammable material around your home as much as possible. Any landscaping in this area should be small trees and shrubs with plenty of irrigation.

  • Here is what you can do :
  • There is solid justification for removing all living trees around your home especially conifers, and especially on the downhill side if you live on a hill or slope. Bare minimum is you need to make sure that there is at least 10 feet of clearance from branch tip to your roof, but you need to take a good, long look and evaluate the living trees that grow around your home.
  • Get rid of the all the dead stuff, trees, shrubs.  Keep firewood stock piles as far away as possible.  Think of all the dead or flammable material as “ladder fuels”, which allows a ground fire to climb up into the canopies of existing, living, trees and yes onto your house!
  •  Now get rid of all the dead limbs on the living trees, which are also ladder fuels. Forests throughout the Intermountain West are comprised of Conifers such as Pine and Fir, which hold on to dead limbs for a long time. Ideally you remove all dead limbs – but removing all dead limbs up to 12-15 feet is adequate.
Zone 2: Moderate Fuel Reduction Zone: Basically this is a continuation of what you started in Zone 1 by removing all dead or dying trees & shrubs along with as many dead branches on remaining trees as possible (minimum up to 12′). Remember that the slope of your property can greatly influence fire behavior. On flat ground Zone 2 should extend 100 out from your house but 200 feet on steep terrain leading up to your home. Stand thinning is also advised, which means removing crowding, living trees to create space between the canopies of remaining trees.
Zone 3: Managed Wildland Zone: Less intense management than Zone 1 & 2 and extends at least 200 feet from home but the objective is the same; removal all dead material, specific tree thinning requirements depends on species and land objectives. Thinning improves the forest stand by removing trees that are damaged, attacked by insects, infected by disease, or are of poor form or low vigor.
Zone 4: Community Ignition Zone: This is a broader application of Zones 1-3 that usually includes the entire Wildland Urban Interface of a community and may be comprised of both private and public land.
So now you have a good idea what needs to be done on your own property, perhaps you can do some of the work yourself but need help with a broader plan or dealing with bigger trees so it would be a good idea to call an experienced compnay such as Trees For LIfe to help.  Whoever you use do your homework, get references, make sure the company you use is qualified and insured.

Defensible Space