The proposal, which is currently open for public comment, recommends the felling occur over the next 10 years and to focus on "dominate and co-dominate trees that display vigorous growth with healthy crowns." The Forest Service contends that cutting down the entire tree is the safest and most efficient way to get the larch cones and the tiny seeds therein.
The Swan View Coalition is calling BS on the FS. The group is asking supporters to contact the Forest Service and demand a less invasive process that saves some of the forest's strongest trees. For instance, the group says they could simply remove the cones, or remove a limited number of branches per tree, then remove the cones from the limbs on the ground. Keith Hammer, chair of the coalition, even detailed the alternatives in a letter addressed to the Forest Service:
We urge you to spread tarps under the selected trees and then remove a few limbs per tree. This will capture clean cones with minimal damage to the trees, which will be left alive to spread their genes for generations. Limbs can be removed by tree climbing, shooting beanbag lines over limbs, by lift truck, or by a weighted line suspended from a helicopter. Or, you can simply spread tarps under trees where squirrels are actively dropping the mature cones from the canopy.
Seed collection guides find helicopter collection using a rake basket to be cost-effective when done correctly, with the added advantage of aerial selection of the best trees.
The Forest Service was clearly expecting some backlash — and to hear these very alternatives.
In the release announcing the proposal, the agency offered a preemptive explanation of why anything but felling wouldn't work. In fact, the release's first two paragraphs are dedicated to discrediting any other plan:
Because of the inherent safety concerns of climbing larch trees (larch trees have brittle stems/ branches and hard bark that easily flakes off in large slabs) collection trees would be felled for safe cone collection.
Shooting cone-bearing branches off trees to collect the cones is another method used for cone collection. This method is time consuming and is not deemed to be an efficient way of collecting larch cones within the short harvest period (2-3weeks). In addition, larch cones are very small (size of a walnut to a large grape) and significant loss would occur when the cone-bearing branch falls to the ground.
The good thing here is you get to help settle the war of words, er, trees. The proposal will be open for public comment until April 16, and Marsha Moore, project team leader with the Forest Service, says she's already received "about 40 or 50" emails so far.
"Those aren't just from the Swan, but cover a wide range of opinions and questions," she says.
To comment, email Moore or call 758-5325. You can also write to the Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901.