It’s not easy to stay one step ahead of the woods.
When my family first moved into our little corner of the forest, the primary concern was pine beetles.
Later on, the threat became the bagworms, feeding on the new needle growth of evergreen and spinning their silk on the tops of trees, so it appeared the valley was experiencing an alien spider invasion. And then last year it was fire.
Game for Experts
Even a few acres, when forested, need management to prevent infestations and fires. But an acre is a lot of land when you’re trying to maintain it, let alone 10, 20, 40 acres.
Further complications arise when streams are present, or when safety becomes an issue. Although on the surface, backcountry Montana’s version of yard work looks easy, it’s not.
It is a game best left to the experts: loggers.
Smith Logging has operated in the Flathead for decades, and I have driven past their office often, but I never was aware of the company until they revealed a view of the Flathead Valley on my hillside that I had no idea was there. It had been blocked by trees.
The company has been operating, however, much longer than I have been living in the Flathead.
Rick Smith, the current owner, has been logging since he was in his teens. At the time, his father, Clyde, owned the logging company.
Smith Logging doesn’t advertise much and isn’t out much in the public eye, but it has played a role in making the Flathead safer in more than one sense.
Fire and smoke have haunted Montana for the past few summers, and logging is key to reducing dangerous flammable materials.
In an interview, Rick Smith discussed logging practices as fire prevention. The best time to log?
“Do it before the fire,” Smith quipped, before recommending, as a first step for any rural homeowner, looking into fuel reduction grants to space out tree crowns, which prevents hot, uncontrollable crown fires.
As for general forest management, he recommends a balanced approach. “We can reduce the fire danger with good logging practices. Fire can be a useful tool … you need all tools to really accomplish the goals.”
The logging category of tools has expanded and become more focused on healthier forests (and safer people) since Smith began his career.
Streamside Management Zones have come into effect, so that timber harvests don’t affect the creeks and rivers nearby.
Best Management Practices, guidelines that keep woodlands healthy, also help to protect streams as well as the soil.
Safety and Advocacy
Meanwhile, on the personnel side of things, the Montana Logging Association (MLA) has become a force for safety and advocacy for loggers.
“[I] can’t emphasize enough the impact the Montana Logging Association has had on the logging industry in Montana”, said Smith, who is affiliated with the organization.
The MLA provides insurance, safety measures, and training programs, as well as connections with government entities such as OSHA.
The Association also runs an accreditation program: ALP, or Accredited Logging Professionals. The training opportunities available through the MLA range from Accounting to Insect Control to First Aid courses, effectively increasing logger competence and safety.
Safety concerns for loggers as well as the rest of the valley have also been alleviated by better and quicker access to medical treatment, such as the ALERT helicopter now recognizable in the Flathead.
Loggers were instrumental in the helicopter funding of this, including Clyde Smith. Clyde was highly invested in getting an emergency helicopter. Rick, working for his father, had been in a logging accident in which heavy machinery had rolled on top of him.
The crew was working miles from paved roads, and an ambulance had to be pulled up via logging equipment.
But Rick survived, to continue working as a logger, to take over his father’s business, and to continue to make the logging industry —and, by extension, the Flathead Valley—a safer place. MSN