Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. participated in the restoration of degraded ecosystems in the Lolo National Forest restoring them to their pre settlement conditions. Serving as an example of this new shift in USDA forest management policy, Seeley Lake provided an ideal location to carry out this restoration work.
Nestled between two wilderness areas, the Seeley Valley contains a chain of lades fed by the Clearwater River. Hundreds of home and summer cabins line this “chain of lakes” corridor making this a prime recreation area. Surround by a dense tangle of shade-tolerant Douglas fir, sub alpine fir, and Engelmann spruce, fire became a serious threat. Recognizing the need for a fuels treatment plan, district managers wanted to know what the forests around Seeley Lake originally looked like and what role fire played in them. One site – the Girard Grove – proved to be a prime example of an early settlement tree stand. American Indians that frequented the area for fall hunting and berry picking frequently burned the area. Large, fire-resistant trees, particularly western larch, dominated the resulting open stand.
Fires had been suppressed for more than 130 years, creating a highly vulnerable stand that was succumbing to bark beetle infestations. These crowded conditions prevented larch regeneration. The youngest larch was now 130 years old and although relatively healthy the competition from younger, more vigorous Douglas firs would have eventually weaken the larch. Based on this research, the Seeley Lake Ranger District worked with Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc., a local family owned sawmill, to reach their restoration goals. Their main objectives were: 1) Protect remaining old growth trees; 2) Improve wildlife habitat for species such as elk and northern goshawk; 3) Reduce the crown fire danger to local residents and seasonal visitors; and 4) Furnish local jobs and income.
Treatments included removing small and medium size trees, particularly Douglas fir and lodgepole pine. Despite fears, this proved to be commercially viable.
The District was able to proceed with the Clearwater Stewardship project which bundled a variety of other restoration work projects. Under a stewardship contract, the Forest Service outlined broad outcomes on the land, and Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. was responsible for achieving them on the ground. The tasks were designed to foster landscape scale ecological restoration and outdoor recreation. The tasks ranged from campground improvements, to vegetation removal, to bridge installation to restore upstream spawning habitat. During the entire process, a multiparty committee chaired by a forestry professor from the University of Montana monitored the work. The committee included representatives from the National Forest Foundation, Trout Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, the timber industry, the local water board, and the Seeley Lake Ranger District.
The Clearwater Project was a resounding success, demonstrating the effectiveness of bundling restoration treatments across the landscape. Perhaps best of all, it gave Pyramid and other in the community a clear sense of “ownership” for the outcomes.
For a complete article contact bookstore.gpo.gov for the issue of Fire Management Today, Volume 65, No. 4, Fall 2005 or phone 202-512-1800.
For more on ecological restoration contact Tim Love USDA Forest Service, Seeley Lake Ranger District, phone (406) 677-2233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credits: Author Hutch Brown, managing editor of Fire Management Today..