HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) - The long-bladed Husqvarna comes roaring to life with a single, well-practiced pull from a man who has spent nearly 37 years working in the woods.
On this cool fall morning, Bob Searle is down on one knee and looking up through the branches of the 300-year-old Ponderosa pine that’s soon to fall.
With chips flying from the spinning chain, it takes Searle all of two or three minutes to send the tree crashing to the ground.
This time he was lucky.
His blade didn’t hit any one of the hundreds of lead bullets buried in the pine.
“That can be a little hard on your saw when that happens,” he said, while taking a moment away from his work.
Searle is working on a small hazard tree removal project just off the Rye Creek Road that the Bitterroot National Forest has named the Leadwood Salvage. All of the 30 or so trees that are being removed from the dispersed camping site near Daly Creek have been filled with lead after being shot repeatedly over the years.
In some cases, trees with a girth of 20 inches or more had been nearly shot in half.
The Bitterroot Forest’s Ryan Hughes said all people need to do is look up to see what kind of impact all that target practice has had on the trees in the popular camping site.
“You can see right through their crowns,” Hughes said. “You can see that they’re stressed. When that happens, they get attacked by beetles, spruce budworm and mistletoe. They struggle to survive.”
The concern was some of the trees could fall at any moment.
“You’d be surprised to see where people camp,” Hughes said. “There were trees that were definitely leaning and they would be camping right under them. It was a concern.”
The dispersed camping site up Skalkaho Road east of Hamilton has long been a challenge to manage for the Bitterroot Forest.
For years people have used the bank leading down to the creek as dumping ground for wildlife carcasses. There are three or four user-created roads that go straight up the mountain from the campsite. Almost every year, the agency has to carry truckloads of trash left behind by people apparently not interested in preserving the area’s natural beauty.
Searle said he camped in the same spot about 20 years ago when there weren’t nearly as many people about. He can still remember his family’s complaints about the smell of a dead dog someone had dumped near the creek.
The logs that Searle takes away from the site will be milled at his family’s mill east of Corvallis. They’ll have to be careful to avoid any stray bullets in the wood.
“It’s only four or five loads, but it’s four or five loads that I didn’t have before,” he said. “When I was younger, it basically would have been about a day’s work. It takes me a little longer now days.”
Searle was also piling the slash that will be used to help rehabilitate some of the user-created roads in the area, said Bitterroot Forest recreation program manager, Erica Strayer.
“We didn’t want to have to close this site to people,” Strayer said. “We know it’s a popular place, but we knew had to do something.”
That something will include chipping up the slash from the salvage sale to help the new plants survive in the two-track trails, and placing truckloads of boulders in strategic spots to keep people from dumping near the creek or zooming back up the mountainside.
“We intend to make it a nicer spot for people to come camp,” Strayer said. “We’re hoping that they will respect it more when we get it completed.”
Information from: Ravalli Republic , http://www.ravallirepublic.com
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