Featured Professional: Al Christophersen, Director of Habitat Stewardship Services

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Congratulations on being a valued client of Northwest Management. Like you, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is very pleased to be forging a business partnership relationship with NWM.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) is piloting a stewardship services program in which RMEF will be working as a general or subcontractor to accomplish elk habitat enhancement work. Companies like NWM will be extremely valuable in helping make this stewardship contracting services program a huge success. We view this program as another tool that RMEF can utilize in increasing our mission accomplishments of directly enhancing elk habitat. We see opportunities for this program all across America, not just in the northwest. RMEF is interested in working with private landowners on their lands, as well as industry that is working on public lands in stewardship projects. In order for RMEF to become effectively engaged in these efforts we will be working through consultants, timber industry owners and mangers, and consulting firms in the local areas to help make RMEF successful as a bidder or partner on projects.

RMEF needs to focus on projects that are enhancing elk habitat. We know that good quality elk habitat supports strong populations of many other species of birds and wildlife. We will be working with top line elk biologists, foresters, researchers and land managers to ensure projects RMEF undertakes are quality projects.

Habitat enhancement treatments may include timber harvesting, thinning, tree and shrub planting, forage seeding of roadways, log landing areas, and reclamation areas, creation and long term maintenance of forage openings within forests, aspen clone restoration, prescribed burning treatments to stimulate forage, and treatment of noxious weeds. While there are many other types of projects these will capture the bulk of available opportunities. We believe there are many great opportunities to combine with projects accomplishing hazardous fuels and range improvements that are being conducted on wildlife winter ranges or on elk habitat. If you believe a treatment will enhance elk habitat on your lands then let’s discuss it.

Join us (RMEF) as a stewardship partner to continue to make elk country the best it can be. Contact myself or any RMEF staff for information about how to get passionate about enhancing elk country. If you don’t have the habitat but want to support this great new program contact us about your donation.

Al Christophersen
Director of Habitat Stewardship Services
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
406-523-3478, cell 406-396-1578

5705 Grant Creek Rd
Missoula, MT 59808

Winter Road Maintenance

By: Greg Bassler

Winter is here and it is the most important road maintenance period or time of year. Technically, the critical time for establishing drainage is during the fall/winter transition (fall breakup). Provisions or structures for drainage must be installed and maintained in the road prism prior to winter freeze up to reduce erosion and potential sediment delivery. Once the road prism is frozen, road maintenance becomes much more difficult and often ineffective.

One of the most effective structures used to provide surface water drainage on both aggregate and native-surfaced roads is the rolling dip. Dips on out-sloped roads channel water running in the surface ruts off the road surface. Properly located and constructed rolling dips provide an excellent method of collecting water and dispersing it to the forest floor. Unfortunately, use has been limited in some areas of the Inland Northwest due to opposition and criticism by log haulers. In most cases, this is justified since most rolling dips were improperly constructed.

A properly constructed dip is one that is approximately 35 to 50 feet long and 12 to 30 inches deep. If dips are too short in their total length, the truck or trailers will bottom out. The road grade into and out of the dip should be level and not out-sloped. The level grade prevents the truck frame from flexing which can damage the truck’s frame and undercarriage. The most common problem observed with construction of dips is they are typically too short in length and too shallow. Dips are effective on road grades up to 8%. On grades steeper than 8%, the water will run through the dip and a water bar must be used.

Natural dips should be utilized where possible during initial road construction by “rolling” the grade. Moving the road grade slightly downhill and then bringing it back uphill is how this technique is applied. Dips should be located on straight road segments to be most effective. Dips on curves are typically not as effective and often make turning difficult for trucks. Depending on soil types, rolling dips and the fill slope located below the dip is commonly rocked to prevent erosion. Slash and sediment traps can also be used to filter sediment and disperse energy.

Whatever the drainage structures used, they must be in place and maintained prior to freeze up. Hauling during fall wet weather conditions often causes rutting which can lead to subgrade damage. Log hauling during this time may have to be suspended until freezing temperatures solidify the road. Drainage must be re-established by grading or backblading with a dozer. Suspending hauling operations early, before excessive rutting and possible subgrade damage, generally allows earlier resumption of hauling operations when freeze up occurs.

Once the road surface is frozen, maintenance is generally limited to snow plowing and building frost in the road. Snow should be windrowed to the outside edge (fill) sides of the road. Snow should not be pushed or windrowed into the inside ditch or culvert inlets. Holes should be cut or pushed in the snow berms to allow water to drain off the road during rain events and thawing conditions. Rolling dip outlets must also be kept open and functional. When spring breakup comes, drainage structures built into the road are the most effective in capturing water from melting snow and rain. Whenever possible, removal of the entire snow berm is advised. Use of these structures and techniques will help insure proper drainage and reduce erosion.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Bugle Magazine Article

The Meadowlark Ranch Players:
Cooperation and collaboration for the sake of elk and cattle

When people from varied backgrounds work together toward the common goal of enhancing habitat, they can make some beautiful music.
(This article is a reprint from the September-October 2005 issue of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Bugle Magazine – Written by PJ DelHomme

A good bluegrass band is easy to recognize. As the fiddle player steps to the microphone under the spotlight, the banjo player eases back into the shadows without missing a beat. With a simple nod of the head or even a look, the entire band can shift tempo or suddenly quit playing and sing a few bars together a capella. It’s as though they can read each other’s minds. The end result is an intricate, well-oiled instrument that creates an auditory delight.

Nearly smack dab in the middle of Montana, near Lewistown, a band of sorts is making some beautiful music of its own. But it’s not of the bluegrass variety, instead it’s green grass—and elk, other wildlife and cattle are the band’s biggest fans.

The band, made up of a forestry consulting firm, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a family logging outfit and family-owned lumber company, has gathered on a 5,000-acre stage known as the Meadowlark Ranch. The ranch stretches across the foothills of the Little Snowy Mountains, just one of the numerous island mountain ranges dotting the plains of central Montana. National forest and private lands border the working cattle ranch, 619 acres of BLM land lie within its boundaries. Only 12,000 people live in Fergus County—a 4,253-square-mile area nearly twice the size of Delaware—leaving plenty of room for cattle to roam alongside elk, mule and white-tailed deer, black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, grouse and other wildlife on the Meadowlark and surrounding public and private lands.

The band of forestry professionals was founded by Meadowlark Ranch owner Theodore Roosevelt IV. Roosevelt donated a conservation easement on the property to the Montana Land Reliance, a land trust based in Helena, Montana. Similar to those held by the Elk Foundation, the easement allows Roosevelt to continue grazing cattle on the property but precludes development and other uses that could diminish its wildlife, agricultural and scenic values.

“In many cases, cattle grazing, if done the right way is going to improve habitat,” Roosevelt says. “There are a lot of good cattlemen who understand what they’re doing, and there is enough evidence that shows cattle [grazing] done the right way on public lands is also good for the elk population.”

Roosevelt, an Elk Foundation life member, spent more than a decade learning how to manage his property with four goals in mind: improving forest health, enhancing and maintaining wildlife habitat, reducing fire danger, and improving forage for livestock. These goals may sound difficult to reach, but thanks to cooperation from all of the players, the Meadowlark Ranch is meeting them.

When Roosevelt first purchased the property in the early 1990s, he discovered the ranch’s ponderosa stands had become overgrown, like many forests in the West, due to decades of fire suppression and past timber harvesting practices that removed only the biggest trees. These “dog-hair” thickets had created an impenetrable forest for both man and beast. Because little or no sunlight could reach the forest floor, shrubs, grasses and forbs were unable to grow in the understory. Choked forests become vulnerable to high-intensity wildfires because smaller, younger trees create “ladder fuels” that carry fire into the crowns of older trees. Dense stands are also at a higher risk for insect infestations. Stiff competition for light and nutrients coupled with ongoing drought conditions (Montana is in its seventh year of drought) stress and weaken trees, making them candidates for pine beetle invasion. Pine beetles chew their way through bark, creating tunnels where they lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the cambium layer, often girdling and killing the tree.

Roosevelt, who shares livestock pasture on his ranch with a neighbor, wanted to enhance forage for wildlife and cattle, but he and his wife Connie didn’t know where to begin. “What we didn’t know far exceeded what we did know,” Roosevelt says. “It took me almost 15 years before I thought I had enough knowledge to do this properly.”
He says part of the reason it took so long was because he wanted to find a forestry consultant he could trust. In the end, he chose Northwest Management, Inc. (NMI), based in Moscow, Idaho, which offers free initial consultations for forest landowners in the inland Northwest. The firm specializes in forest management, planning, stewardship, timber sales and prescribed burns—everything Roosevelt needed to achieve his goals.

Vinnie Corrao, NMI president and an Elk Foundation legacy partner, has spent his career cruising timber and helping manage public and private forests. He says it helps him do his job when landowners do their homework and come to the table with ideas about what they want to accomplish on their property. Corrao and his team match the desires of landowners with what the forest needs to become healthy and productive.

Roosevelt’s vision for the ranch included creating park-like ponderosa stands and protecting the riparian areas along the streams running through the property. NMI agreed. Their plan, which begins with logging, calls for cutting timber in a mosaic pattern to mimic natural fire. Mosaic cuts leave patches of trees that provide cover for wildlife. In some areas, loggers remove all the trees, creating meadows lush with grasses, forbs and shrubs for elk and cattle. In other areas they cut selectively, marking every tree with paint—orange paint spares it, blue gets it the blade. This method leaves many of the ranch’s healthy, mature trees (some in excess of 200 years old) and large diameter dead or dying trees intact, while removing smaller trees and ladder fuels and allowing more sunlight to reach the forest floor. Roosevelt requested they build no new roads for the logging operation.

Due to the complexity of the timber harvest, Corrao sought help from Gordy Sanders, resource manager for Pyramid Mountain Lumber Inc. in Seeley, Montana, to find a logging company that would be careful to follow Roosevelt’s objectives. Enter the Wanglers, a father and son logging outfit. Sanders recommended the Wanglers for the Meadowlark Ranch project, because they are innovative loggers and are willing to work with detailed prescriptions. They cut trees so low to the ground a stump is barely visible after one year, and they base all their decisions on what is best for the land.

Logging began in June 2004 under a timber harvest plan calling for removing about half of the trees large enough to be sawlogs—or around 1 million board feet—on 750 acres. They ship the sawlogs 300 miles northwest to the town of Seeley Lake, where they are milled by Pyramid Mountain Lumber Inc., a 56-year-old family-owned company and the longest surviving independent sawmill in Montana. The company focuses on responsible forest stewardship. Sanders says that Pyramid works with organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Montana Land Reliance and Elk Foundation to ensure logging projects benefit the land and wildlife.

At well over a dollar per mile per truckload, transporting the sawlogs from the Meadowlark Ranch to Seeley Lake isn’t cheap. But according to Bob Oldenburg with Pyramid’s Lewistown office, the processing facilities are all in western Montana, so there’s really no choice. In addition to sawlogs, the plan requires harvesting nearly an equal amount of small diameter pulpwood (biomass). The little stuff is shipped 350 miles to the Smurfit-Stone pulp mill near Missoula, where it is turned into cardboard.

Because the ratio of sawlog volume to pulpwood volume is around 50/50, hauling the pulpwood an additional 50 miles steals precious funding from the project. As more and more landowners and public agencies are looking to reduce biomass, getting rid of it in a cost-effective manner is one of the biggest challenges. Besides turning pulpwood into cardboard, people have recently come up with more ingenious uses for biomass. The Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown plans to use biomass to fuel its heating system, beginning in November 2005. The U.S. Forest Service’s “Fuels for Schools” program is outfitting many Montana schools with biomass boilers to turn small diameter trees into heat.

In spite of the costs of logging and transporting sawlogs and pulpwood from the Meadowlark Ranch, Corrao says the project is basically paying for itself, and all profits go right back into improving wildlife habitat on the ranch. The philosophy is a bit like having a stock that pays a dividend every quarter. Instead of cashing out the dividend, you re-invest it, buying more stock for a bigger return in the future.

This is also a good match for Roosevelt’s personal conservation philosophy. “Conservation is having a great deal of respect for the land and protecting it in such a way that it can be passed down in as good shape as it was received, or even enhanced for the next generation,” he says.

But logging is only one facet of the habitat work on the Meadowlark. Research indicates ponderosa pine forests are accustomed to ground fires every five to 20 years. These low-intensity fires serve as nature’s own trash compacter-recycler. Because the bark of mature ponderosas is thick enough to withstand the flames, the fires slowly creep their way through the stands, consuming snags and slash lying on the forest floor as well many of the young trees. The result is a parklike, wildlife-friendly stand of mature trees with plenty of understory forage to go around.

As part of the ranch’s 30-year management plan, NMI and its fire crews will burn between 700 and 1,200 acres of forest and meadows, mimicking low-intensity ground fires, helping create abundant and healthy forage for elk, other wildlife and cattle.

NMI is also fencing off and repairing riparian areas and springs where cattle tend to congregate and camp out, to help protect the water supply downstream for fish, wildlife and humans. They also plan to abandon an old road that runs near a spring and a fragile riparian area.

And what about the 619 acres of BLM land within the ranch’s borders? BLM fire mitigation specialist Shannon Downey says even small, isolated parcels of timber have the potential to blow up during a big fire season. That’s why the BLM has followed Roosevelt’s lead and is planning to thin timber in these secluded pockets to improve habitat. The agency is using timber proceeds to offset the costs of restoring meadows and reducing the buildup of hazardous fuels. Downey says the work being done on the Meadowlark is a model for responsible land stewardship.

Crossing boundaries, both physically and mentally, is a key aspect of this project. Elk and other wildlife recognize linear boundaries only when they get tangled in a barbed-wire fence, which is why Scott Westphal, RMEF eastern Montana volunteer coordinator, hopes to get volunteers out on the BLM land to remove old, rundown fences by the end of the summer.

When conservation groups, government agencies, landowners and private companies come together to help the land and wildlife, everyone, not just hunters, reaps benefits from the collaboration. Even though some private lands may have “No Trespassing” signs posted, responsible private-land stewardship provides healthy forage not only for cows of the bovine variety, but of the wapiti variety as well. Good grass means healthy elk calves and bigger herds. For bulls, good forage means faster growth and bigger antlers. And, of course, the elk that roam the Meadowlark don’t stay there year-round. They migrate onto adjacent public lands, which are open to general hunting.

But private land stewardship means more than just good hunting. Pyramid Lumber’s Sanders points out that only 12 years ago, Pyramid received 80 percent of its materials from public lands. Now, 80 percent comes from private lands, which means better habitat for wildlife and jobs for loggers and mill workers.

In the end, responsible land stewardship, be it on public or private land, is essential to conserving what’s left of our wild country and resources. When people from various backgrounds work together toward the common goals of protecting and improving habitat, they can make some beautiful music. So the next time you hear an elk bugle on a crisp September morning, remember the players at the Meadowlark Ranch. A bull’s bugle is their greatest hit.

Writer PJ DelHomme would like to thank Ted and Connie Roosevelt for opening their home to him on this assignment, and special thanks to Betty for leaving the light on for him.

Featured Professional: Peter Kolb, Montana State University Extension Forestry

Montana’s Private Forest Landowner Survey Results

In recent years, Montana’s private forest landowners supplied about 30% of the annual timber harvest despite comprising only about 20% of the forest land.

To better understand this important group, Peter Kolb, forestry specialist with the MSU Extension service, surveyed nearly 1,900 of the state’s 80,000 private landowners by mail. One hundred ninety seven landowners responded, representing nearly 90,000 of Montana’s 3.7 million acres of private forestland.

The results showed that creating/maintaining wildlife habitat, growing large old trees, fire hazard reduction, having insect/disease free trees, and controlling noxious weeks were rated highly important landowner objectives, regardless of ownership size. A difference between large and small ownerships emerged when the objective was growing trees for future log harvests. Large landowners (>100 acres) rated this important, while small acreage owners rated it somewhat less important than other objectives.

The property objectives held by family forest landowners have implications for conserving Montana’s natural resources and the future of the state’s wood products industry. This survey suggests that overall, private landowners showed a tendency towards conservation values as opposed to maximizing timber-related profits.

This survey is a preliminary portion of a more complete study being conducted by MSU Extension.
Contact Peter Kolb at 406-243-4705 for more information about this study.

Adverse Possession Law, Good or Bad? By: Vincent P. Corrao

The Adverse Possession Law in Idaho basically states that if you think you own property to the fenceline, actively tend to maintaining the property to that fenceline (i.e. grazing, logging, farming), then you essentially own the property to the fenceline. The length of ownership required to make a claim on the property if someone has a dispute or disagreement with the location of the fenceline has been quoted as 5 to 7 years.

Common boundary line verbal agreements have gone on in the west for many years. Fences were placed where ownerships were thought to be or where placing a fenceline made the most sense, not according to actual/legal boundary lines. In the past, these lines have been either graciously accepted or met with feuds and fights that have ended in personal or legal battles.

In 2004, the Idaho legislature looked at changing the Adverse Possession law to reflect the current changing land ownership patterns. Much of the west is sub-dividing at an accelerating rate. Smaller ownerships with homes scattered throughout the rural west have required more legal surveys and property line establishment than ever before. If a parcel of land is purchased with a legal survey and the adjacent neighbor is infringed on with the survey, then through adverse possession, the prior line could take precedent and the new owner may be out of luck. Adverse possession stands up even if the adjacent landowner has not been paying taxes on the portion of land now identified by the survey. This is not as simple as it sounds,however, because if a line is off on the north boundary of the property where is it on the south end? Maybe there was or are compensating errors or maybe not. Is the Adverse Possession law good or bad? The answer to this question depends on which side of the fence you own. The new law considered grandfathering all earlier boundaries, and the surveys for new property owners would now stand. The law was tabled until next year.

On boundaries not legally surveyed, a written boundary line agreement between adjacent property owners is a good idea, one that has been drafted by an attorney and recorded at the courthouse. This will at least make a strong position and will show up on a title search if the land exchanges hands.

GPS on the Family Forest – Featured Professional: William E. Schlosser, Ph.D.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based system that provides accurate location and timing information to people worldwide. The system transmits signals that can be used by GPS receivers to calculate position, velocity and time anywhere on earth, any time of day or night, in any kind of weather.

Accuracy is determined by your GPS unit. All units use the same basic satellite system. Therefore, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars to locate yourself to within a couple of millimeters of your actual location, or a couple hundred dollars to locate yourself to within about 30 meters.

For the average forestland owner who owns a computer, a $500 investment in a handheld GPS unit, some software, and a download cable will get you on your way to accurately mapping features on your property and adding to the wealth of information you use to manage your forestlands. We are recommending Garmin MAP76 series GPS units to most of our clients and colleagues. This series of handheld GPS receivers comes in a variety of models including a couple with color screens (for more money). We use them at Northwest Management for many of our field projects where an accuracy of 10 to 30 feet is acceptable. We can increase that accuracy to about 3 feet through some advanced data collection techniques.

We like these units because of their cost to accuracy ratio, the ability to load information from a variety of mapping software platforms into the GPS unit and then pull data collected by the units back to the mapping data. Base maps can be loaded into the unit from accompanying software to show roads, streams, contours, and other features on its built in screen.

The other factor is their ease of use. Suppose you want to traverse a planting unit, timber sale boundary, or insect infestation. By walking the perimeter of the area with your GPS unit you can instantly view the acreage of the unit without a calculator. Then when you upload your data to your computer, you can produce a map of the unit accurately showing its location. The same can be done for roads. Simply walk the route and receive distance, accurate location, even slope profiles along the route. Although I am not quite ready to throw away my compass, the Map76S series comes with not only a barometer but a magnetic compass built in.

Northwest Management, Inc., will be sponsoring a series of GPS classes for forestland owners this spring and summer. They will be offered in Moscow, Idaho, Deer Park, Washington, and Helena, Montana. Watch this newsletter for details and dates, or our web page for more information.

Dr. William E. Schlosser is a forester, natural resource economist, and regional planner with Northwest Management, Inc. located in the Moscow, Idaho, office. He is the Director of the Northwest Management Geographical Information Systems Laboratory and lead instructor of GPS and GIS training sessions.

2005 – Another Great Year to Harvest!

Looking at the 2004 season and the prices our landowners receive leaves little doubt that it was the year to get those stands thinned and your management objectives implemented. 2005 looks like 2004 at least for the first half of the year. The composite lumber price is already over $400 per thousand and $66 higher than the same time last year. Mills are beginning to look for inventory and log prices have begun to rise.

The forecast looks strong for log sales through May or June but are projected to soften toward the second half of the year. Interest rates are low and housing starts are up, fueling a strong first half for log sales. Third and fourth quarter log prices are expected to fall in response to a projected increase in interest rates and lower lumber prices.

Many mills are looking for logs and have begun raising prices to replenish inventories and to work around the breakup conditions.

When log markets are strong and improving is an excellent time to conduct your thinning and remove the insect and disease damaged trees and small log material in a cost effective manner and produce income that often is not available in softer markets.

Douglas-fir and larch, cedar and lodgepole are expected to be the strongest in price with improvement in grand fir and ponderosa pine, but prices in those species are not expected to exceed the 2004 price range. The log market fluctuates continuously, with the last big jump in the market in 1994 which continued into 1995. Often these surges run a 1½ to 2 year period and then soften again. The excellent log prices in 2004 and now into 2005 may continue into 2006, but the forecast is for a softening in the market late in 2005 and into 2006.

Northwest Management, Inc. log sales program will actively begin selling logs in March and is recommending landowners wanting to pursue a timber harvest to sell their logs by the end of second quarter 2005.

Securing a logging contractor that has the best match of equipment with log size, which in turn provides the bets harvesting cost, is always a challenge in active years. Setting up your sales early and contracting the logger with those sold logs is the best insurance to take advantage of 2005 prices.

Give us a call if you have any questions, and play the market when it’s right and right is 2005 early spring!