Most of the forest burned in the Lolo Creek Complex fire belonged to Plum Creek Timber Co., which hopes to recover what it can of the blackened trees this fall.
“Of the almost 11,000 acres involved, we have just over 7,000 acres within the boundary of that fire,” Plum Creek Northwest regional vice president Tom Ray said. “We will be down there next week to take a look and see what’s salvageable. The company had periodically been harvesting on those lands over the past decade, and we had future harvest planned there. That’s going to change.”
Plum Creek owns land on both sides of Highway 12 where the fire burned, although its largest holdings are on the north side of the corridor. That remains the most active section of the fire, where steep terrain around Woodman Creek west of Lolo has hindered firefighters’ efforts.
The fire also burned 1,947 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and about 2,000 acres of other private property.
Ray said Plum Creek personnel worked with the incident command team during the fire’s early days, providing maps and local knowledge of the landscape and road network. Plum Creek also pays an annual firefighting fee assessment of about 25 cents an acre to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation that works like insurance on all its approximately 900,000 acres of property in the state.
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Montana State Forester Bob Harrington said the fee system is similar to programs used in most Rocky Mountain states to support firefighting efforts on private land. The money pays for equipment and training in years when fire activity doesn’t predominate the expenses.
Plum Creek also lost about 1,700 acres of timberland in the West Mullan fire near Superior in July. That area will also be assessed for possible salvage logging.
“We’ll also look at what we can do for reforestation,” Ray said. “In some places, we may have natural reseeding coming back. Other places, we’ll look at what we can we do to restore those lands. Aerial reseeding is still a viable option in large fire areas. We have a seed bank of excess seed on hand, if we have large events we need to reforest.”
Lolo Creek Complex information officer Dave Schmitt said fire ecologists are getting started on rehabilitation plans for the burn areas and places damaged by fire lines and retardant drops. Property owners along Highway 12 have already started cleaning up burned properties and damaged pastures.
Salvage activity could take mature trees for lumber, medium-density fiberboard, or paper pulp. Logs burned too badly may be used as hog fuel at sawmill boilers.