Interchange XChange: Can Wildfires Be Managed?
A Profile of Jan Stoddard, Bureau Chief, Industry Services and Outreach
A native of Wisconsin, Jan Stoddard has called the West her home since a post-graduate internship brought her to Idaho in 1981. “The Rocky Mountains soon captivated my soul and a rugged cowboy captured my heart,” remarks Stoddard, “and I never went back.”
After years of demanding work in the print and publishing industry, Jan and her family relocated to West Yellowstone in 2005 to enjoy the unique quality of life it offered and feed her longtime passion for learning about the former hotels in Yellowstone National Park, reading historical accounts, and exploring the sites. Jan began a satisfying second career in the private hospitality and tourism sector in West. She later functioned as the Marketing Director of the West Yellowstone Chamber/CVB, and, later still, accepted a position with the West Yellowstone Tourist Business Improvement District.
Now, as the bureau chief for Industry Services and Outreach with the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development division in the Montana Department of Commerce, Stoddard leads a team responsible for “programs and products that assist tourism organizations and communities in developing tourism infrastructure, sustainable strategies, and product creation.” A “perfect synergy of collaboration and practicality,” the position is Stoddard’s welcome home, “bringing state resources to the tourism partners and communities across Montana” that she loves and knows so well.
Wildfires have long been part of Montana’s ecology and play an important role in shaping the state’s spectacular unspoiled nature. Without a doubt, those fires impact Montana communities and Main Street businesses. But, Stoddard is hopeful: “Despite an unprecedented 2017 wildfire season, 12.5 million people visited Montana last year, spending nearly $3.4 billion (marking an 11 percent increase in nonresident spending)” and providing much needed support to Montana businesses and communities. And, though the Sprague fire would eventually reap unparalleled devastation, Glacier National Park broke its previous visitation record last year, providing a timely reminder that the resilience of this place and these people is equally unparalleled.
“We can expect climate change to create greater unpredictability for Montana’s many recreation-based industries,” says Stoddard. It’s a fact of life. And nature. But, she is quick to add that the exact substance of that unpredictability and management of factors related to it is a controversial and undeniable unknown. When asked her opinion on wildfire management, environmental policies and the wealth of unknowns? “I have great respect for forest managers and climate scientists,” Stoddard deftly replies, “Luckily, I am not one.”