A roadless poll, and tips for fireproofing your homestead 

We can’t let a week go by without inviting allegations of being fascist-tree-hugger-pagan-commie-pantywaists for our practice of writing about President Clinton’s proposed national forest roadless plan without also rehashing Monica Lewinsky, Travelgate and the Waco siege. Still, despite the oft-stated claim that most “real Montanans” (read: those outside the liberal bastion of Missoula) actually favor mining and logging on our national forest lands, it appears voters say otherwise.

A statewide phone survey conducted in March of 550 likely Montana voters by the Oakland, Calif.-based research firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates found that most voters (53 percent) favor Clinton’s roadless initiative, while fully one-third (33 percent) strongly support it. Two out of five said they were opposed to the plan, with 6 percent not sure. Moreover, when respondents were told how the plan would affect Montana, namely, that 40 percent of national forest lands would be protected from logging, new roads, mining and off-road vehicles but would remain open to most forms of recreation, support was even stronger, with 59 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed.

Such findings are revealing in that they suggest only a slim majority of Montanans still favor industrial activity on national forest lands. Though there remains a plethora of critics within the environmental community who feel betrayed by the Clinton plan, saying it doesn’t go far enough to protect public lands, we’ll be spared—for the time-being anyway—the image of a gasoline-powered chainsaw being torn from Chuck Heston’s cold, dead hands.
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In the wake of this month’s government-sponsored inferno that consumed the town of Los Alamos, N.M. (will the last person to leave the fission reactor please turn out the lights?), officials around the West have begun issuing warnings to prevent further conflagrations from igniting in the nation’s other arid regions. And as we learned this week, Montana is no exception. With the smoldering embers of Los Alamos suggesting that fire season has officially begun, the Montana Division of Disaster and Emergency Services has provided us with some helpful tips for protecting your own parcel of Big Sky Country from going the way of New Mexico. So we thought we’d share.

A few of them are quick, easy and pretty logical—like removing dry grass, brush and trees within 100 feet of your house to create a sort of fuel-free fire buffer; lopping off dead branches over your roof and within 10 feet of your chimney, for similar reasons; and keeping all sources of water clearly marked and easy to get to.

But a few other tips may not have occurred to you. Montana’s Masters of Disaster suggest, for instance, pruning the branches of taller trees to six feet above ground, so ground fires can’t spread upward. They also urge you to use tile or fire-retardant shingles on your roof, no matter how charming those rustic cedar shakes may look. And they also politely request that you cover your chimney with safety screening and enclose the underside of your porches and decks, so hungry ground flames don’t crawl under your house looking for fuel.

For full details on protecting your home, you can call the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Forestry Division at 542-4300. And remember: Only. You.

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