Missoula County commissioners fret about public reaction to nearby logging projects

In March, IFG Timber outbid Pyramid Lumber of Seeley Lake, pictured, to get the 109-acre Grant Creek Fuels Project of mixed conifer for almost $77,000. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

A few forestry projects are about to take place in Missoula County, prompting commissioners to worry about public reaction.

On Monday afternoon, representatives of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation told commissioners about three timber projects that will take place over the next year or so under the federal Good Neighbor Authority.

Because the U.S. Forest Service continues to be underfunded, Congress created the Good Neighbor Authority as part of the Farm Bill to allow state agencies or counties to create logging projects on federal land and the state reinvests the timber-sale money in future forest projects.

One of the Good Neighbor projects is the Grant Creek Fuels Project up Butler Creek Road, on the Lolo National Forest south of Point Six and west of Snowbowl Road. In March, IFG Timber outbid Pyramid Lumber to get the 109-acre timber project of mixed conifer for almost $77,000.

DNRC Southwest area manager Mike O’Herron said IFG Timber was currently working on the roads and should begin pulling out an estimated total of 480,000 board feet of lumber in June.

The commissioners remembered public concerns about similar projects in the Rattlesnake corridor a few years ago. Commissioner Josh Slotnick was concerned about complaints that might arise once the logging trucks started to roll. He asked O’Herron if the project’s publicity could be slanted toward fuels mitigation rather than logging because it’s so close to town.

“Wasn’t there a horribly messed-up attempt a few years ago to do some fuels mitigation in the Rattlesnake but it was portrayed in the newspaper as logging in the Rattlesnake,” Slotnick said. “Have we learned from that to some degree? Not that the project isn’t spectacular, but I can see it being framed as something other than that.”

O’Herron said publicity is being handled by the federal agencies but he didn’t think it would be controversial.

A similar project, the Range Road Project, is slated for Bureau of Land Management land in the Garnet Range south of Highway 200. The BLM is reviewing the timber sale package and they’re hoping to advertise the sale in late June or early July, so O’Herron said he didn’t know any other specifics.

Finally, the Blackfoot-Gold project is being assessed on a combination of Lolo National Forest and BLM land about a half-mile to a mile up Gold Creek and about a mile north of the Blackfoot River. The agencies are doing the fuel assessment and plan on advertising the sale next summer, O’Herron said.

Slotnick wondered how the agencies could cobble together any more logging in Gold Creek.

“It looks like the Lorax up there right now,” Slotnick said. “It’s one of the most bombed-out places I think I’ve visited in western Montana. Is there a corner of it we haven’t gotten yet?”

O’Herron said a lot of the land in the Gold Creek area used to belong to Plum Creek Timber, but the proposed timber sales are on historic federal land. State trust land to the west will also be included in the sale. Again, O’Herron didn’t know the project specifics and said he’d provide more details at the next update in two months.

“For a lot of people who live in the valley, when you say ‘Gold Creek,’ a certain vision comes to mind. And then we say we’re going to do some logging up in Gold Creek, it’s kind of a head-spinner,” Slotnick said.

O’Herron added that another project is scheduled north of Seeley Lake along the west-side bypass road.

O’Herron emphasized the need to be fire-aware this year, because resources and manpower to fight wildfires could be limited due to coronavirus restrictions.

He also mentioned worries about the potential flood of tourists into Montana because they could add to the risk if they don’t put out their campfires. American’s can’t fly overseas or to other vacation hotspots this summer, so they’ll be looking for safe places to drive to in the U.S. and Montana looks good.

O’Herron said Fish Wildlife & Parks supervisor Randy Arnold said FWP is already seeing a lot of people using state public lands. Slotnick said he heard that every campground was full in the Seeley area last weekend. O’Herron himself tried to camp by Bigfork last week but every campground was booked.

“We’ll suggest lots of messaging for our residents and our visitors to say, ‘Montana’s open and we’re glad you’re here, but let’s be really careful about all the fire safety. But also be good to each other while you’re here, because there may be some crowds.’”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.