Federal and state officials entered into an agreement to share personnel and resources on the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir project in the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
Helena National Forest supervisor Bill Avey and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation director John Tubbs signed a joint stewardship agreement between the agencies on Tuesday. Under the agreement, DNRC will spearhead the hiring of contractors to log and perform restoration work in the watershed.
The Ten Mile area was hard hit by the mountain pine beetle, which left massive stands of dead trees. Officials worry that a wildfire would damage the flume and pollute water supplies to over 30,000 residents of Helena. On April 9, the Helena National Forest announced its decision to move forward with logging and controlled burning near the flume and reservoir.
The Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir project is the first project undertaken by the agencies under a master stewardship agreement signed last September. The master stewardship agreement allows the state to share costs with the Forest Service on restoration projects that involve both state and federal lands.
Total cost for the project is estimated at more than $800,000 with over $200,000 coming from DNRC, Tubbs said. That figure includes funding for forestry work on private lands. Proceeds from the sale of logs will help pay for the project.
Tubbs praised the working relationship between his agency and the Forest Service, and said that he hopes the Red Mountain Flume agreement can serve as a model for future projects.
“We intend this project to be a learning experience and to move the ball forward as we learn our capacities,” Tubbs said. “If we can demonstrate that a partnership can work here it can work anywhere else in Montana or any other western state.”
Avey also touted the agreement, saying it will help officials manage landscapes holistically.
“This project is about all government working together to do the right thing,” Avey said. “By leveraging our resources, it helps us get lined up for the next project.”
Helena city manager Ron Alles noted that the project came from the work of a collaborative group that began forming the plan more than five years ago. Helena is ready for the project to get underway, he said.
Helena Mayor Jim Smith highlighted the importance of the project to the city.
“This is huge for protecting the city’s water supply,” Smith said.
Lewis and Clark County commissioners Mike Murray and Andy Hunthausen threw their support behind the plan and praised the cooperation of federal, state, county and city governments on the project.
“This is a good example of how different levels of government can work together,” Hunthausen said. “This is a project we realized has to be done for the betterment of the state and the community.”
DNRC expects to begin awarding contracts for the logging work in early July, and crews could begin working by this fall, Tubbs said.