Although a campus-wide rummage sale takes place this Saturday, don’t get the wrong idea about the green price tags on many trees shading the University of Montana.

Student members of the Society of American Foresters hung tags as part of National Forest Products Week, demonstrating the value of urban forest species. For example, a Douglas fir tree by Stone Hall noted its size (83 feet), diameter (35 inches), potential products (plywood, tea for rheumatism cure) and value in environmental benefits ($13,954, based on storm water absorption, improved air quality and property value).

The week of celebrating and contemplating the state of Montana’s forestry industry wrapped up with visit to an active logging project tucked into the side of Mount Sentinel.

Although work in the woods has been in decline for the past three decades, Montana remains one of the few states in the West with everything from loggers to lumber yards still in operation. According to Department of Natural Resources and Conservation figures, 7,749 people earn $319 million in annual wages from the forest products industry.

National Forest Products Week even generated a proclamation from President Barack Obama. In it, Obama noted benefits of fresh air, clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational activity and essential products such as paper, wood and packaging material. He also observed the increasing risks of wildfire, erosion, drought and climate change.

“(W)e are exploring ways to help forestland owners respond to climate change,” Obama wrote. “Earlier this year, we released a roadmap for implementing key building blocks to achieve this goal, such as private forest growth and retention, stewardship of Federal forests, and promotion of wood products.”

For Missoulians, the week culminated with a trip to the top of Pattee Canyon, where Kathy and Gary Kahl hosted a tour of a hazardous fuels reduction project on their property. A long driveway beyond the popular public trailhead, the Kahls overlooked a dense grove of trees on the steep slopes above Deer Creek Road.

“We feel totally privileged to live up here, but we’re compromised by the fire danger,” Kathy Kahl said. “We don’t want anybody dying trying to save us.”

That was a real concern in 1985, when the Hellgate fire raced around Mount Sentinel and sent flames up the canyon in sight of the Kahl’s home. In the 33 years they’ve lived there, Kathy said saplings she planted when they moved in are now blocking the view out her windows.

Thanks to a grant from the DNRC Forests in Focus program, the Kahls and two neighbors were able to hire a professional logging crew. The goal was to take most of the trees off the hillside, leaving old healthy Douglas fir, larch and pine trees about 20 feet apart. That’s the prescribed distance that keeps a wildfire from jumping from treetop to treetop in what’s known as a crown fire.

Gary Kahl said the results mean more sunlight in the mornings and a view of the mountains to the east that he hadn’t seen for years. It also means considerably less risk of a fire starting from the Deer Creek Road racing up the hillside to his home.

Because the properties bordered Deer Creek at the bottom of the canyon, the crew had to set up a high-line skidding machine to pull the cut trees to the top of the hill. That proved a challenge to maneuver a 110,000-pound line skidder to the top of Pattee Canyon.

Intermountain Forestry owner Ben Smith said that was actually easier on the landscape than more common ground-level skidding with bulldozers. His team expected to need about three weeks to remove 80,000 board-feet of logs and 40 tons of pulp from the six-acre parcel. The commercial value of the logs would pay for about half of the cost of the project. The Forests in Focus program of state dollars pays for the other half.

“It’s cool to see landowners wanting to manage their timber,” Smith said. “And a site like this is a lot of fun to work with.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.