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Flathead National Forest proposes logging to collect pine cones

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Larch tree cones grow near the top of very tall trees, which makes them tough to collect for anything other than squirrels.

The Flathead National Forest needs a lot of larch cones for its reseeding efforts, and it’s seeking public comment on how best to get them. The trees have brittle branches and bark that flakes off easily, making them difficult for humans to climb. Another alternative is shooting cone-bearing branches off the tree.

“That’s apparently not one we’re interested in,” Flathead Forest spokesman Wade Muelhof said. The cones aren’t much bigger than grapes, and lots of them get lost as the branches fall to the ground.

So the preferred alternative involves cutting down about 270 trees over 10 years to supply seedling needs.

“We have this great need for cones to replant larch in burned areas and harvested areas,” said project team leader Marsha Moore. “We’re so low with our inventory, this is how we get cones. Lately, we’ve had to borrow seeds from the Kootenai National Forest.”

The plan is to take trees between 22 and 28 inches in diameter, to get the best cone production with the fewest trees cut, Moore said. A single mature larch can deliver between a third of a bushel to a full bushel of cones.

Foresters would limit their take to about one tree per acre, within a mile of a road. They would focus on areas with existing timber sales, but may have to try other places depending on annual cone production. Cut trees would be left on site for wildlife habitat.

The collected cones go to the U.S. Forest Service’s nursery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for cleaning and sorting.

Moore said the project is going out for informal scoping to gauge public response. Anyone wishing to comment should respond by April 16, by phone at (406) 758-5325, email at memoore@fs.fed.us, or by mail to Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901.

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