Grant program helps people protect homes from wildfires


Clearing the shrubs and trimming the trees would have involved a lot of labor, or at least cost a good amount of money to have someone else do it, but a program available to local homeowners helps them cover the bills.

Homeowners who live in timbered areas in Gallatin, Park and Meagher counties can apply through a little-known program for the federal government to pay up to half the cost of reducing wildfire hazards on their properties.

The fuel-reduction grant program is administered by the Northern Rocky Mountain Resource Development and Conservation Area and Montana State University Extension.

The program aims to minimize the risk to homeowners whose homes are in wild land-urban interface areas, or places where homes and other manmade structures intermingle with otherwise undeveloped wild lands.

More development in those areas is a large part of what’s driving the increasing cost to fight wildfires, according to fire officials.

State Department of Natural Resources and Conservation officials have said that protecting homes and manmade structures is more labor intensive than fighting fires in undeveloped areas, and it puts firefighters at greater risk for injury.

The grants are for landowners who want to create defensible space, areas around their homes that are clear of most of the vegetation that would catch fire.

“The No. 1 problem we have is everyone thinks we are clear-cutting, and we’re not,” said Hugh Magone, a field technician with the local extension office.

Defensible space often means removal of shrubbery and dead wood, and the pruning of low tree branches to lessen the odds of them catching on fire. Sometimes a few trees are removed. The work varies from property to property, because no two properties are the same.

The program will pay for the work on up to five acres, Magone said. It also will help landowners pick from a list of insured contractors to do the work for them, he said.

The program will pay about half the cost of the work. If landowners hire a company to do the clearing, they can be reimbursed for the money they spend. If they do the work themselves, they can still get money to help cover their costs.

Either way, the landowners must first work out a cost-sharing agreement with the grant administrators.

Magone said the program is averaging about $1,400 an acre, with some landowners getting more and some getting less. It pays only for landscaping, not for material changes to homes that would make them less likely to catch fire.

More information about the program, including applications, is available at the MSU County Extension office at 201 West Madison Street, suite 300, in Belgrade.

By WALT WILLIAMS, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle


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