Flathead Indian Nation Declares “Success” with 998-Acre Lolo NF Project

The following article and photographs were published yesterday in Char-Koosta News, “the official news publication of the Flathead Indian Nation”: http://www.charkoosta.com/2014/2014_02_27/McGinnis_Cabin_Stewardship_Project_deemed_a_success.html

On the surface this sounds like an excellent example of the intentions of the Tribal Forest Protection Act of of 2004, but it also raises some questions: Why did it take so long to treat so few acres? What were overhead costs compared to income? And, of course: Will it work as anticipated should a wildfire (or bug infestation?) strike the area?

The article claims there are still brush piles to burn, roads to build, and roads to decommission before the project is complete. Would a good test of the project’s success be to conduct a broadcast burn through the area, too? Or is that a capability not structured into the project’s design?

February 27, 2014

McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project deemed a success

Road construction/maintenance and pile burns were some of the tasks the CSKT Forestry Department executed for the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. The project started in 2009 and will be coming to a close in December 2014. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)Road construction/maintenance and pile burns were some of the tasks the CSKT Forestry Department executed for the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. The project started in 2009 and will be coming to a close in December 2014. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)

HOT SPINGS — Since 2000 nine large forest fires have burned near or across the border of the Flathead Indian Reservation – eight started off the reservation and burned onto the reservation. Nationally over twenty Indian reservations faced wildland fires in 2002 and 2003 that originated off reservation and moved onto the reservations. These fires brought up issues of threatened tribal resources, lands, and collective health of residents. To address these threats, the TRIBAL FOREST PROTECTION ACT OF 2004 (TFPA) was passed and allowed the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to give special consideration to tribally – proposed Stewardship Contract projects, on United States Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, bordering or near Indian trust lands; this would enable tribes to better protect their lands from threats like fire or disease. After the bill passed, the CSKT Forestry Department proposed a project on the Lolo National Forest near the western reservation border. By 2009, the funds became available to start the project, titled “McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project”.

CSKT Forestry Department conducts a slash pile burn to clear out the extra logged timber material. Pile burns are one of the few things left on the “to do” list for the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)CSKT Forestry Department conducts a slash pile burn to clear out the extra logged timber material. Pile burns are one of the few things left on the “to do” list for the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)

The McGinnis area, located west of Hot Springs near the border of the Flathead Reservation and the Lolo National Forest, covered 998 acres. In 1960 the area had been logged, then between 1961 and 1966 undergone a controlled burn and was replanted with trees. Between 1973 and 1976 the Forest Service conducted pre-commercial thinning to the area.

The McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project began in 2009 as a joint project between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Lolo National Forest. The project entailed thinning trees on 998 acres, road maintenance, road construction, and road decommissioning near the border of the Lolo National Forest – Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger district and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Reservation. The goal of the project: by reducing tree density and debris, and underburning in the 998 acres, the consequences of future severe wildland fires should be reduced. CSKT would also sell the timber products as mostly pulpwood and small sawlogs, allowing some economic benefits for the tribe, and employing CSKT members. The project is coming to a close and CSKT, the Intertribal Timber Council (ITC), the (USFS and BIA are deeming it a success.

Pre-commercial thinning and commercial thinning in the McGinnis Creek area was an important part of the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. The CSKT Forestry Department thinned 998 acres in order to diminish the consequences of future severe wild land fires. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)Pre-commercial thinning and commercial thinning in the McGinnis Creek area was an important part of the McGinnis Cabin Stewardship project. The CSKT Forestry Department thinned 998 acres in order to diminish the consequences of future severe wild land fires. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)

The McGinnis project has provided additional employment opportunities for tribal loggers during a period when the timber market was low.

CSKT faced several obstacles during the project. The tribe had a new role as a contractor, assuming all of the risk, which had not been done before. Jim Durglo says, “There was a large learning curve for the CSKT Forestry staff.” There were multi-layers of managers and administrators in the USFS, and a high rate new personnel in administrative positions. Working with all of the parties took time; the contract was complex and required working closely with the Plains-Thomson Falls District Ranger and Lolo Forest Contracting Officer. CSKT managed to overcome the hurdles and started the project.

The McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project began in 2009, and entailed thinning trees on 998 acres, road maintenance, road construction, and road decommissioning near the western border of the Lolo National Forest - Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger district and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)  The McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project began in 2009, and entailed thinning trees on 998 acres, road maintenance, road construction, and road decommissioning near the western border of the Lolo National Forest – Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger district and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)

Thirty percent of the work had finished when Smurfit Stone Container Mill of Missoula shut down. CSKT had been selling the pulpwood to Smurfit Stone. CSKT was forced to suspend the contract until reliable markets could be found for both the pulpwood and small logs. Finally in the fall of 2013, Willis Enterprises entered into a delivery agreement for the pulpwood delivered to the Bonner Mill site with CSKT, the Plum Creek mills in Evergreen and Columbia Falls and Tricon Timber Inc. mill near St. Regis purchased the small sawlogs, and the project resumed.

The project ends in December 2014 Jim Durglo says, “We still have work to do. We still need to do burn the slash piles, complete road maintenance and decommission other roads within the project area. We plan on completing these tasks in the summer and fall of 2014. The most important aspect of the project, under the TFPA is that we are creating employment and economic opportunities for tribal members and are reducing the impact of large fires to tribal resources.”

The McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project began in 2009, and entailed thinning trees on 998 acres, road maintenance, road construction, and road decommissioning near the western border of the Lolo National Forest - Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger district and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)  The McGinnis Cabin Stewardship Project began in 2009, and entailed thinning trees on 998 acres, road maintenance, road construction, and road decommissioning near the western border of the Lolo National Forest – Plains/Thompson Falls Ranger district and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Reservation. (Photo courtesy of Jim Durglo of the CSKT Forestry Department)

Eight years after the enactment of the TFPA, only ten Tribes and eight National Forests have implemented projects under the TFPA authority. Of the ten projects, only six have been deemed a success so far – CSKT being one of them. Jim Durglo says, “A lot of our success needs to be credited to Tribal Forestry Department staffers, Duane Plant, Project Planning Program Manager, and to Rod Couture, Project Administrator and CSKT timber sale administrator, and to Forest Service employees, Randy Hojem, Plains-Thompson Falls District Ranger and Loren Ebner, the Forest Service Contracting Officer.” Also, the following tribal loggers; Dupius Logging, Three Mor Enterprises, Bras Logging and Wheeler Logging were instrumental in the success of this project.

After the completion of this project, the CSKT Forestry Department has no further plans for the area, but wants to maintain a good working relationship with the Lolo National Forest and propose additional hazard fuel reduction type projects near the reservation border.

2 Comments

  1. Bob

    I think that this statement answers your question as to why the project took so long. Funding was dependent on a market for the removals and that market disappeared for a while as explained here:
    “Thirty percent of the work had finished when Smurfit Stone Container Mill of Missoula shut down. CSKT had been selling the pulpwood to Smurfit Stone. CSKT was forced to suspend the contract until reliable markets could be found for both the pulpwood and small logs. Finally in the fall of 2013, Willis Enterprises entered into a delivery agreement for the pulpwood delivered to the Bonner Mill site with CSKT, the Plum Creek mills in Evergreen and Columbia Falls and Tricon Timber Inc. mill near St. Regis purchased the small sawlogs, and the project resumed.”

    I agree, it does look like a good job but, as we both know, it won’t be all that many years before those crowns close and it’ll be ready for it’s second thinning.

  2. When the black liquor tax credits (a colossal ripoff) got taken off, Smurfit Stone slammed the doors shut on the Frenchtown facility, basically ending the pulp market in Montana. All there is now is a pulp chip and car-loadout at the old Stimson mill site at Bonner (which ran only long enough to satisfy PCL’s REIT buyout of the associated land). They are sending that stuff by rail to Wallula. But that’s all there is to help pay to remove crummy wood in the entire Western Montana wood basket, besides the 2.5 MW Stolze boiler.
    CSKT and Jim Durglo are going to do only what makes fiscal sense for them. Until there’s more pulp pull in the Montana market (greens opposed a biomass boiler at UM), a lot of formerly doable projects are just not going to happen.

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