After the historic fire season of 2017, Missoula County Commissioners have asked a distinguished fire scientist to speak at a public meeting on Thursday, February 8 to discuss ways to reduce the community’s risk of wildfire.

Speaking will be Mark Finney, PhD Research Forester with the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory.

KGVO News asked Dr, Finney for a preview of his presentation to encourage more county residents to attend.

“It takes management of the wildlands as well as around the edges on private property to have the full effect,” said. Dr. Finney. “Planning for wildland fires begins many. Many years, even decades before wildland fires occur. Too much of our efforts are focused on emergency response, and by then really, the opportunity for effective management is gone. This requires a complete rethinking of how we manage our forests. Certainly, the science is there. We have a century of worth of science demonstrating how we can manage in a sustainable fashion.”

Finney said one of the main ideas he wants to communicate at Thursday’s meeting is that fire itself is not the enemy.

“Wildland fire itself is an essential component of fire management,” he said. “Fortunately, there’s a great deal of practical knowledge showing that we can determine the timing and conditions of these fires as they produce positive effects that are beneficial both to the natural resources as well as to communities.”

Finney hopes the audience will come away from Thursday’s meeting with a better  understanding of wildfire.

“My hope would be that people realize the magnitude of the management problem and the magnitude of the solutions regarding the intentional use of fire in our wildlands,” he said. “That means prescribed burning and the management of natural ignitions to achieve the kind of landscape scale mitigations of fuel hazards and maintain ecologically sustainable roles for fire. We’ve shown for more than a century that we just cannot keep fire out of our wildlands, and the harder we try, irrespective of the expense, we are having worse and worse fire seasons. The solution requires a lot of active management on a routine basis, and not just during the fire season.”

The public meeting is Thursday, February 8, at 2:00 p.m. in room 151 of the Missoula Courthouse Annex.