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Timber salvage planned for popular recreation area at Spencer Mountain

by HEIDI DESCH
Whitefish Pilot | June 9, 2021 1:00 AM

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is planning a proposed timber salvage project that would occur on the north side of Spencer Mountain this summer.

The project would salvage blowdown and damaged timber, according to the DNRC, on 500 acres. The project would include salvaging about 350,000 board feet of timber.

Comments on the project are being taken through June 14.

The popular recreation area for mountain biking and hiking is about 4 miles west of Whitefish on public school trust lands managed by the DNRC.

Riley Stevenson, Trust Lands Forester with DNRC, said the Spencer Mountain area as state trust lands is part of the state forest’s mandate to generate revenue for state schools by salvaging the trees. The project, he noted, would also reduce fuel loading and mitigate Douglas-fir bark beetle infestations that could occur as a result of the blown-down trees.

“We want to salvage the trees on the project to get their economic value before that’s lost,” he said. “There’s also the environmental factor of making sure that we take care of the downed trees because they attract Douglas-fir bark beetles and we want to make sure that we keep that out of the mature Douglas-fir trees there by getting the trees that are on the ground.”

The project is tentatively set to occur in mid-July.

“We want to act as soon as possible before the beetles fly because that can affect the forest health,” he said.

The project could close the Twin Bridges Trailhead for up to a maximum of 30 days, but Stevenson says the project likely won’t take that long to complete.

Two nonprofits that maintain trails in the area say they recognize the need for the salvage project, but would also like to see the trails there protected as much as possible. The Flathead Area Mountain Bikers maintains 9 miles of freeride trails at Spencer through a recreational use licence with DNRC. Whitefish Legacy Partners maintains the Whitefish Trail section in that area, and along with FAMB maintains the Twin Bridges Trailhead.

Stevenson says DNRC plans to work to mitigate impacts to the trails in the area and work with the nonprofits that manage trails there.

“It’s tricky with a blowdown because the timber is scattered around and the equipment has to travel to where the timber is,” he said. “But we will work with the contractor to minimize the number of trail crossings and work with [FAMB] to identify the biking features so that we can try to avoid those completely.”

FAMB in 2015 brought several historical, user-built trails in the area up to safety standards and has since constructed new trails in the area. The nonprofit says the salvage project has the potential for impact to the Otter Pop, Maple Syrup, Recess, Malice in Plunderland and Big Gulps, Eh? trails in particular.

Noah Bodman, board member with FAMB, says DNRC has been receptive to its concerns, and the organization wants to work with the state forest to minimize impacts.

“It definitely makes sense to get the trees out of there and make money out of them and also prevent beetles from infesting the live trees, we obviously don’t want that to happen,” he said. “The blowdown was unexpected and something we couldn’t plan ahead or budget for. We want to work with the DNRC on this as much as possible to minimize the impact on the trails. I do think that is possible.”

Bodman says while the salvage project would likely take less than the maximum 30 days to complete, how long it would take to repair trails beyond that is unknown.

“How long the repairs would take to happen is tough to say because we don’t know what that will look like,” he said. “This is new territory for us.”

Bodman says it’s important for the public to submit comments to DNRC letting them know the importance of the recreation trails at Spencer.

WLP says it would like to see mitigations in the salvage project to protect and minimize the impacts on the recreation infrastructure. They are also asking DNRC not to close the trailheads and trails during the peak summer season, but consider delaying until fall when there is less use or considering allowing public access during the evenings and weekends.

“We support the need to remove the down trees before a bark beetle infestation harms the living trees and we support the DNRC’s objective to generate revenue on behalf of Montana schools and universities,” WLP says. “We simply want to ask that they also support existing recreation.”

Heidi Van Everen, executive director of WLP, said comments from the public to DNRC about the importance of recreation on Spencer Mountain is important ahead of the project.

“We’ve invested a lot of money and time to create the recreation there and we hope the state will take that into consideration,” she said “This is about timber, recreation and the community, and balancing all those is critical to making all the pieces work together. We want their plan for the sale to show that they support the existing recreation.”

Stevenson says DNRC will consider any concerns raised during the comment period and look at ways to implement adjustments into the project while still working to meet its own mandate for generating revenue for schools.

The DNRC is taking comments on the project by mail at DNRC, Attn: Riley Stevenson, Kalispell Unit, 655 Timberwolf Parkway, Kalispell, MT, 59901 or email at riley.stevenson@mt.gov.

For more information, visit

http://dnrc.mt.gov/public-interest/public-notices/2021-notices/May/spencerblowdown2021.pdf