Buncher truck cutting trees, beginning work on Chessman mitigation project
Work begins near Chessman Reservior, August 2014

Project - Recent History - 2007 - 2013

In October, 2007, Northwest Management, Inc. was hired to study and report on the Ten Mile watershed, and to make recommendations. In summary, they reported:

•    “…the combined effects of past fire suppression, heavy fuel loads, an extended drought period and an active mountain pine beetle infestation have put forests on the City of Helena lands, as well as adjoining National Forest and Private lands in the Tenmile Creek drainage, at significant risk of a catastrophic wildfire.”

•    “The combined effects of a large scale forest fire in the Upper Tenmile Creek drainage could potentially threaten a major source of Helena municipal water supply.”

•    “Impacts to the Upper Tenmile Creek watershed would also likely include a significantly increased potential for soil erosion, decrease in water quality due to sedimentation and a loss of forested wildlife habitat.”

In 2008 the city convened a working group of people with interests in the watershed, which put together a protection plan. The Tenmile Watershed Collaborative Committee (TMWCC) was appointed by the Helena City Commission in September, 2008, Resolution 19605:

“To develop recommendations to address interrelated issues in this uniquely important watershed arising from the threat of uncontrolled wildfire, including the City’s water supply infrastructure, the water quality that sustains it, and multiple watershed values”

The TMWCC approved by consensus principles, goals, issues and actions. The document with recommendations was submitted to the City on June 17, 2009. One month later, the Helena City Commission unanimously approved the Tenmile Watershed Collaborative Committee’s Consensus goals and recommendations, and invited the National Forest Service to collaborate to resolve concerns about Helena’s water supply.

The majority of the Ten Mile watershed is on Helena National Forest lands, which means any work done on those properties must be in coordination with, and approval of the National Forest Service. While the Forest Service agreed with the recommendations, they did not act on them immediately. The 25 year old Forest Management Plan had not been updated and has to be amended or updated before any work could take place on those properties.

The risk of cataclysmic wildfire prompted action by the City to work to diminish the threat by beginning to reduce fuels in the area. The Helena City Commission formally accepted the Tenmile Creek Water Supply Fuel Reduction Project on July 7th, 2009, and was awarded FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Funding for the project was $312,831. Collectively, the awarded FEMA funds, combined with $104,277 in required City of Helena match funding, account for a project budget totaling $417,108.00.

Thanks to coordinated efforts to clean up private land in the watershed area, City of Helena contractors, along with contributing efforts from City Parks Department staff, completed 72 acres of forest clearing work within private ownerships located adjacent to the Red Mountain Flume in the summer/fall work seasons of 2011 and 2012. In the absence of any unforeseen delays, approximately 95% of the FEMA funded forest fuel mitigation included within the Tenmile Creek Water Supply Fuel Reduction Project is slated for completion on or before December 31, 2013.

An article published in the Helena Independent Record in January 2013 alerted more community members and stakeholders to the increasing risk of catastrophic damage due to potential wildfire in the area. The increased concern prompted the Forest Service to review the needs of the area and plan for work to begin on Forest Service land adjacent to the Red Mountain Flume and Chessman Reservoir as the first step in implementing the TMWCC's plan.

In February 2013, the Helena National Forest Supervisor contacted the City of Helena to propose action on the Red Mountain Flume and Chessman Reservoir portion of the Ten Mile Watershed. Following the investments made by the City and by FEMA, the Forest Service recognized that in order to maximize the effectiveness of the other activity in the area, the adjacent Forest Service lands must be treated similarly to the work completed on City and private property.

Helena National Forest staff requested public comments on a preliminary environmental assessment (EA) for the Red Mountain Flume & Chessman Reservoir project. The 30 day comment period began on June 24th and closed on July 26, 2013. The final decision document was released on August 28th, with a no significant impact finding, leaving a 30 day objection period before the project can begin in late October.

Two objections were filed prior to the objection deadline, citing concerns about the lack of a full-scale assessment of the overall watershed and the impacts of clear cutting and large machinery in the area. The objections are posted on the Helena Forest Service website. The two objectors of the project filed papers indicating an intent to file a lawsuit if the project is approved by the regional forester. A final decision was expected in late November but was delayed until April, 2014. The response letter to objectors was distributed on December 17th and those letters can be found here.

The final decision came from the Forest Service in April, 2014, to move forward with the project. Nationally, the Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir projects were being hailed as perfect examples of collaborative efforts on wildfire mitigation in National Forests. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) joined as a state participant, creating a support network of Federal, State, Local, and private conservation and commercial organizations.

In June, the two objectors filed a lawsuit and in July filed an injunction to halt work in the area. The injunction was denied by the court, effectively allowing the project to continue. Declarations in support of the project were filed with the court in August, 2014.The lawsuit was dropped in October, 2014.

To read the materials associated with the lawsuit, click on Related Documents in the menu on the left. For more detailed information about the project, click on the Recent History link on the left. To contact the Forest Service, click on Contact Us.