By Michael Howell
Work has begun on the Como Forest Health Project which covers 2,200 acres of national forest land located between Lake Como and Lost Horse Canyon. The Bitterroot Community Wildfire Protection Plan identified the project area as a “high priority” for fuels reduction in the wildland-urban interface. Bitterroot National Forest silviculturalist Cheri Hartless says the project fits in well with the West Side Vegetation Management Project which is ongoing north of this area. She characterized it as “normal forest restoration work.”
The purpose of the project, she said, is to improve forest health and reduce hazardous fuels while maintaining the scenic qualities of the area. The project includes 1,040 acres of timber harvest that will provide nearly 6.5 million board feet of timber, or about 1,500 truckloads, to Pyramid Mountain Lumber’s sawmill at Seeley Lake. Parke Logging out of Drummond is doing the logging. The work is scheduled out over three years but may be completed sooner, depending on the weather and the conditions on the ground.
According to Hartless, although there is some pine beetle infestation in the area it is not at epidemic proportions, but logging and thinning is a proactive approach to keeping the beetle population within acceptable bounds.
“We are taking a proactive approach here by managing these stands for resiliency,” said Hartless. “We want to keep the beetle population at endemic levels, not epidemic.”
The area has been logged regularly since the early 1900s and there is a good photographic record that has been compiled from selected points at ten-year intervals. The latest photos were taken just before this cut and more will be taken right after the cut.
Dillon Brown, a resource forester for Pyramid Lumber, is monitoring the “hot logging” operation in which five employees on five machines work rapidly and in concert with each other to pump out a stream of logs for a line of waiting log trucks. After the clipper has downed the trees, a couple of skidders drag the trees to the landing site where a dangle-head processor grabs them up, strips the limbs and cuts logs to length all the way down to a three-inch diameter. The logs are dropped in front of a loader which then picks them up and places them gently onto the waiting bed of a logging truck.
Leroy Christopherson said he has been driving logging trucks for 64 years and just loves it. He said he arrives on site at about 4 a.m. to start loading so he is ready to make his first run by dawn. He said the trip to the mill and back takes a little over five hours. Currently, five trucks are making two trips a day.
According to Brown, finding experienced truck drivers is a serious limiting factor these days. So is finding workers with the skill sets necessary for doing a lot of the work at the sawmill. The other big problem is finding enough timber within close enough range of the sawmill to make it profitable. He said Pyramid Lumber depends heavily on local privately owned timber stands. To keep things running smoothly and profitably at the mill requires about 32 to 35 loads per day.
Brown said the current project is a good one because the ground is so productive. He said they are getting close to a truckload per acre, about 45 to 50 logs.
The log hauling will continue into the fall and winter, as long as the weather permits, and people driving up to Lake Como should be aware. Logging trucks will also be coming out of Lost Horse Road later in the project.