State grant facilitates forest, range health stewardship

A Miller Trucking truck out of Judith Gap stands loaded and ready to make the trip from the Snapp Ranch to a mill in Bonner.
Photo courtesy of Kelley Hirning

A joint stewardship project between the timber and ranching communities is improving forest and range health in Central Montana.
Local rancher David Snapp is partnering with Shawn Nicholls of Prairie Logging (Moore) for a project on his property by using grant money from the Montana Forests in Focus Initiative to improve his forest. At the direction of Governor Bullock, since 2014 this initiative has disbursed $7.5 million of state funds to help private, state, federal and tribal landowners restore forests and reduce wildfire hazards. $1 million has also been used to develop new wildland fire engines for use by local government fire departments across the state.
Nicholls has Ed Moore of Moore Logging (Moore) and Tony Miller of Miller’s Trucking (Judith Gap) aiding him to thin the forest on the Snapp Ranch.
Before the logging project began in September, Snapp said the trees were so thick he had difficulty moving his farming equipment, the grass was sparse in the forested pastures and the roads were iced over all winter because the sun couldn’t shine through the thick tree canopy.
“I couldn’t move my combine down the road because there were trees sticking out that would catch my header,” said Snapp. “Now, they’ve taken most of those trees out. They have also cleared the trees along the road so the sun can shine on the road and melt the ice.”
Snapp said he hopes the tree thinning will also improve the range growth and wheat yields.
“I saw how the grass came back on a project logged down the road two years ago; I couldn’t believe how much grass grew back,” he said. “I am hoping the wheat will grow better in the fields along the areas where they cut the trees. Those trees drink a lot of water.”
Most of the trees harvested from the Snapp Ranch are considered less desirable because they have too many branches, are too small in diameter and have forks in the tops. These trees are marketed as pulp trees and sold to the mill in Bonner, Mont., said Nicholls.
“We are taking a lot of the smaller, less desirable trees,” he explained, “and leaving the more marketable trees to mature and reseed. We will let them grow so they can be harvested later as saw logs.”
Saw logs are more valuable than pulp logs and harder to find in Central Montana. “Saw log trees grow straight and have less branches,” explained Nicholls. “The saw logs in this job are nominal; we are hauling those to Seeley Lake and to Roundup.”
In addition to harvesting trees, the three logging partners have been developing roads, clearing trees along fences and helping with erosion control by leaving slash and organic matter as fertilizer.
“I think this logging project will help improve everything on the ranch,” said Snapp. “They have done a great job.”
Logging projects like this would not be possible without the Forests in Focus grant to help offset costs such as fuel and marketing less desirable trees, said Nicholls.
“The grant allows for a complete management plan to be implemented – a prescription for a healthier forest,” he said. “With the decline in the market, the project at the Snapp Ranch may not have been completed without it.”
The Forests in Focus grant provides financial assistance to harvest less desirable trees. It also boosts the state’s timber industry, promotes healthy forest stewardship and contributes to wildfire suppression by removing ground cover and increasing the spacing between trees, said Josh Stoychoff, a Forester with the DNRC Northeastern Land Office based in Lewistown.
Check out http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/forestry/forestry-assistance/forest-in-focus for more information on the Forests in Focus grant process.

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