Folks in the south Bitterroot Valley have been hearing the jake brakes of logging trucks barreling through their neighborhoods for most of last winter, as salvage and regular timber harvest took place at the Sula State Forest.
This fall, it will be the homeowners along Bowman Road northwest of Hamilton who will awaken to the sound of air brakes and the sight of black logs. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is preparing a salvage timber sale for about 400 acres of state forest along Blodgett Creek that burned in one single day of heat, wind and low humidity.
That the Blodgett salvage sale is currently being prepared doesn’t come as too much shock. The revelation is that there is any state land at all in an area largely made up of national forest.
The state owns almost a full section of land running roughly from the center of Blodgett Creek, about a quarter-mile down the road from the trailhead, and across the face of the mountain to less than half the distance to Mill Creek canyon on the north.
Lewing says his office is currently preparing an environmental analysis for the pending sale. It should be finished by July 1 and ready for bidding by September.
The state proposes to harvest about a million board feet of timber from the 400 acres that burned. Most of the logging—Lewing estimates roughly 800,000 board feet—will be done by helicopter. The remainder will be logged by ground-based tractor and skidder operations.
Aside from the state’s proposal, the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) is working with the people of Pinesdale on a different project to reduce fuels in the same general area. Recently, Pinesdale, which was evacuated due to the fires last August, approached the BNF about cutting some trees between the town and the national forest boundary, not only to protect their homes, but their Sheafman Creek watershed as well, says BNF wildlife biologist Raymond Smith.
“They saw a humdinger of a fireball coming around the mountain, and it came within spitting distance of the town,” says Smith. “Put a little bit of a scare in them.”
The proposal calls for thinning trees on 80 acres, leaving 50 trees per acre. Prescribed fire is proposed in the more open ponderosa pine stands.
The 307,000 acres of national forest that burned last summer has increased the workload at the BNF enormously; Flathead National Forest wrote the Pinesdale environmental analysis, because, says Smith, BNF staffers were simply “overbooked.”