MISSOULA – Missoula Parks and Recreation will use a $67,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to thin a section of forest on Mount Sentinel. The project is in cooperation with the University of Montana, as the area to be thinned spans land owned by UM and the City of Missoula.
The project aims to improve the health of the forest on Mount Sentinel by thinning early growth Douglas fir saplings that are crowding the forest understory. The project site lies above the University’s M Trail, and results of the work will be visible from the valley floor. Thinning work will begin in summer and continue over the next year.
“Since we have excluded fire from Missoula-area forests for the past century, the forests have undergone significant changes,” said UM Natural Areas Manager Marilyn Marler. “There are many more, and smaller, trees, which interfere with understory wildflower diversity and the regeneration of ponderosa pine trees. The thick Douglas fir stands also promote insect and mistletoe outbreaks.”
“We’ll use experienced contract foresters,” said Morgan Valliant, Missoula open space manager. “There isn’t any merchantable timber to be removed from the site. This is really intended to open up the forest for plant and animal diversity as well as tree health.”
As part of the project, UM students Schuyler Moulton and Rebekah Tueller will host a volunteer day from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 15, on Mount Sentinel. Volunteers will thin Douglas fir saplings using loppers and handsaws, then use the trimmings to cover undesignated trails on Mount Sentinel. These unofficial trails kill native vegetation and cause erosion on the mountain.
Volunteers should meet at the M trailhead at 1 p.m. and be prepared to walk a mile uphill to the project site. Volunteers should bring work gloves and water. Hand tools are provided, and participants are welcome to bring their own saws and loppers. Organizers also are looking for volunteers who can supply their own chain saws and safety equipment. Snacks will be provided. This event is not recommended for children under 10, and dogs are not allowed. Volunteers are asked to RSVP by Thursday, April 13, by emailing Moulton at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tueller at email@example.com.
“We like to involve students and the public whenever possible,” said Marler. “The volunteer day is a good chance for people to learn more about the effects of fire suppression, and how thinning can be a powerful restoration tool.”