160 trees in Jocko Canyon avoid the ax after residents fight culling operations

2014-03-25T20:31:00Z 2014-08-04T19:09:14Z 160 trees in Jocko Canyon avoid the ax after residents fight culling operationsBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian

ARLEE – Approximately 160 ponderosa pines and Douglas firs along Jocko Canyon Road east of here have gotten a reprieve.

Lake County wants the trees, located in the county’s right-of-way, cut down and removed for safety and maintenance reasons.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” county commissioner Ann Brower says.

But many residents along the 2 1/2-mile stretch of the scenic road, such as Leslie Millar and Don Winston, question the need and want most of the trees to stay put.

On Tuesday, the residents got their way, at least for now. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Forestry Department, which had agreed to have the trees removed at no cost to county taxpayers, backed away from that after learning local residents were fighting it.

“We were unaware anyone had an issue with it,” CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald said. “When we were informed of that, we decided to step back.”

The CSKT Tribal Council made the decision Tuesday morning.


Winston, a retired University of Montana geology professor who has lived in the canyon for half a century, did the informing Monday when he drove down to where tree-removal equipment had been moved into the area. Winston parked, and waited for someone to show up.

The tribes are having work done in nearby areas scorched by wildfire, the reason the equipment was there, it turned out – and also the reason county officials saw a chance to broker a deal with the tribes to get the trees cut and removed for free.

“I told them, ‘Here’s a sad story,’ ” Winston says he told two CSKT Forestry employees who arrived later. “I said we don’t want the trees cut before people can try to deal with this rationally. We had a nice, congenial conversation. They were more than accommodating.”

Winston’s concerns were passed on to Jim Durglo, head of CSKT’s Forestry Department, who filled the Tribal Council in on Tuesday morning.

Among the questions raised by Millar and Winston is whether the county can offer the timber to someone other than the property owner.

“It’s our understanding that the county has an easement through our land,” Winston says. “I told them if the trees need to be cut, they need to be cut, but we own any trees that have been cut, and for someone to remove them is another matter.”

Winston says Millar and her husband put up signs on the marked trees on their property stating that removing them – “Not cutting them, just removing them,” Winston says – would be illegal.


Brower says the trees present a danger to snowplow operators, and that there are so many of them that the road remains shaded much of the day.

Snow doesn’t melt very fast, she says, “and we have to sand up there well into spring.”

Whether the moisture comes from melted snow or rainwater, the shade also keeps the road surface from drying out, and standing water leads to degradation problems, Brower adds.

Finally, she says, tree removal will reduce fuels for wildfires in the canyon.

“The commissioners went up and looked at it last year,” Brower says. “Trees are leaning over the road, and there’s one tree actually growing in the road. They’re in the county right-of-way, and it’s strictly a maintenance and safety issue. That has to take priority over aesthetics.”

Millar and Winston say there are only a handful of trees, not 160, that present a potential danger to snowplow operators. They also question why, if shade is an issue, so many trees on the north side of the road that they say provide minimal blockage of the sun on the road surface have been targeted for removal.

Millar says she is also concerned that some of the trees marked for removal are on a steep hillside that runs down to the Jocko River.

Will that contribute to erosion into the water? she wonders.


Large spray-painted orange “X’s” appeared on 100 of the trees last year, alarming Millar, Winston and others in the area, who learned the county planned to have them cut down.

They met with the Lake County commissioners, who also traveled to the area last May to take a first-hand look at the road and trees.

“A group of us formed who are living on the road, 40 people signed up, and we asked the county to slow down and have a public hearing,” Millar says. “We felt there were maybe four or five trees they could justify removing. But they had trees marked that were eight feet off the roadway.”

When dozens more marked trees were added last week without a word to the residents along the road – 40 to 50 of them “majestic,” according to Millar – it raised concerns even higher.

“If trees need to be cut because of safety, that’s one issue,” Winston says, “but if they’re being cut out of spite, that’s another issue. All we’re told is this is the way it’s going to be, and there’s no negotiation room. We feel they went behind our backs.”

Brower says the commissioners are aware of the opposition, have met with the property owners, listened to their arguments, have visited the area, and have concluded that maintenance and safety take precedence.

However, with the tribes bowing out, the project is “definitely on hold,” Brower says.

“It’s not one of our priorities,” the commissioner says. “It was just a matter of timing, of having the opportunity to get it done now at no cost. That opportunity isn’t there anymore.”

But if the chance arises “in another way, at another time,” she says the county will go ahead with having the trees cut.

“At least that gives us time,” Winston says. “My interest is seeing what’s best for the safety of the road, and the beauty of the road – and it is a beautiful, scenic road. There are trees that should probably have to go. There are trees we can agree on. But when you’re also marking trees 10 feet off the north side of the road, I don’t feel those are a danger to the road or anyone on it.”

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. Meggen Ryan
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    Meggen Ryan - March 26, 2014 8:47 pm
    That is the standard reasoning, but does not hold up. I've watched the county plow roads in Evaro since the 1960s. Evaro gets more snow than most areas and in the three decades of 1960-1989 we all saw alot more snow than we get now. Back then the county could plow alot more snow with smaller trucks/plows and didn't drive like maniacs to do so.
  2. Sleddintrash
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    Sleddintrash - March 26, 2014 4:38 pm
    Plow trucks have to drive fast to throw the snow off the road. If they traveled at slower speeds, your roads would be one lane in the winter.
  3. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - March 26, 2014 2:41 pm
    ...and also maybe reduce the density of smaller trees like the ones behind the gentleman in the red's right shoulder.
  4. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - March 26, 2014 2:40 pm
    Yes, if they were to improve the use of this road as a firebreak, they would reduce the ground fuels and ladder fuels on either side of the road and leave the large ponderosa pines.
  5. Sukey
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    Sukey - March 26, 2014 2:15 pm
    I"m no forester, and I realize that roads can and do act as firebreaks, but isn't that more for fire in ground fuel? I've always heard that a forest stops a lot of ground fuel (weeds that spring up and dry out) from growing in the first place. If they're not dead, and they look quite large, just leave them alone.
  6. Dubs
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    Dubs - March 26, 2014 10:19 am
    These people are very luck to be in Lake County. Can you imagine trying to get ANY cooperation from the Missoula County Commissioners? Wouldn't happen--they consider any questioning of their authority to be a challenge to their power over people and their quest to diminish property rights. James McCubbin would have been sent in on this one and the personal attacks would began.
  7. DaveBell
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    DaveBell - March 26, 2014 9:29 am
    It's a beautiful drive.
  8. Objective observer
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    Objective observer - March 26, 2014 8:20 am
    I don't think the trees should have been cut down but removing some trees along roads help those roads act as or be used as fire breaks.
  9. YBChat
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    YBChat - March 26, 2014 8:01 am
    Brower doesn't seem to understand that mature Ponderosa pines are about as resistant to fire as trees can get. They are not "fuels," and typically have few fuels beneath them in a mature stand.
  10. Sukey
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    Sukey - March 26, 2014 7:25 am
    Smell the stink of money. Price of timber is rising. Who was gonna get those trees growing on private land? Thanks for sticking up for majestic trees. And, the way it looks, that shade would help in a wildfire, not cause one.
  11. walter12
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    walter12 - March 26, 2014 7:03 am
    My God people, why would anyone want to cut down the beautiful trees in the first place? Maybe, it was a form of madness.
  12. Agencygrl
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    Agencygrl - March 26, 2014 6:17 am
    Thank you Jock Canyon Road residents for caring enough about your environment to stand up for saving the trees, and thank you to the council for listening to the residents.
  13. Meggen Ryan
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    Meggen Ryan - March 26, 2014 6:06 am
    "Brower says. “Trees are leaning over the road, and there’s one tree actually growing in the road." It's impossible for a tree to establish itself for very long in a well-used road. This likely is a matter of the tree having been there a long time already and the county has widened the road to eventually include the tree. We have the same issue in Missoula County where the county has widened roads to accomodate their huge plow trucks to be able to travel faster on the road, claiming they need the speed to get all the roads plowed in a timely manner. Plow trucks traveling fast are a safety issue too.
  14. BWO
    Report Abuse
    BWO - March 25, 2014 9:37 pm
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