The locomotive rumble of flames has been replaced by the growl of chainsaws in the charred hillsides above Lolo Creek. Of the 10,800 acres that burned last August, about 7,000 belonged to Plum Creek Timber Co. None of that was slated for near-term harvest, but the Lolo Creek Complex of fires changed the schedule.
“Our goal is to wrap up salvage operations by the first of June,” Plum Creek Northwest Regional Vice President Tom Ray said Friday. “We need to get it before the summer heat impacts the standing dead timber. We’re pushing hard to realize all the value we can.”
Company foresters explored the fire zone this fall and divided it into three categories. Areas with light burning, including the places where fire crews set backburns to slow the main fire’s advance, will be left alone. They comprise about a third of Plum Creek’s Lolo Creek land.
Another third burned so hot, even the flame-adapted lodgepole seed cones didn’t survive. Those will be left alone or reseeded by hand over the next two years.
The final third – somewhat more than 2,000 acres – is being cut for merchantable timber. Ray said the fir and larch trees cut there will go to Plum Creek’s Evergreen plywood plant. Spruce and pine logs get trucked to the Columbia Falls lumber mill to become 1-inch boards. Stud-quality logs and mulching treetops have been sold to Tricon Timber in St. Regis.