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Forest Service Makes Strides in Two Decades - Missoulian Centennial Edition 1960

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Forest Service Makes Strides in Two Decades

Jumpers, Air Patrols Assist Fire Control

The past 20 years have seen the Forest Service in Region 1 change from a custodial operation to one of intensive resource management.

Under the direction of three regional foresters, Evan W. Kelley into 1944, P. D. Hanson from 1944 to 1956 and Charles L. Tebbe since 1956, great strides have been made toward getting the most out of our vast forested areas.

This has been accomplished through greatly improved methods of fire control, including the smokejumper and air patrols; insect and disease control, establishment of many new recreation areas; increasingly efficient methods of timber harvesting, and hundreds of related projects in the region’s forests in Montana, eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Eisenhower Visits

One of the big events of this 20-year period was the visit of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 to dedicate the Smokejumper Center. Thousands of western Montanans among the estimated 30,000 who attended that ceremony will never forget what many believe to have been Montana’s biggest traffic jam. Many returning the six miles to Missoula required two to three hours to get back home.

The advent of smokejumping was a great advance in the fight against forest fires. The first parachute jump was made onto a fire on the Nezperce National Forest in July of 1940. That first 12-man squad has grown into a real snappy outfit of 150 brawny young troopers ready to hit a fire anywhere in the region quickly and effectively.

Fire Loss Cut Sharply

The smokejumpers, dive bombers, cargo planes and all kinds of modern equipment and research have helped cut forest fires in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region greatly in the last two decades. Fires have been reduced from nearly 121,000 acres a year before 1940 to fewer than 3,000 acres during recent years. Solving the forest fire problem to a great extent has allowed foresters to do more work on recreation, timber, range, wildlife and water – all making Montana a good place to live.

Because insects and disease kill more timber than is lost to forest fires, the Forest Service has concentrated great efforts in recent years on this vital problem. One of the great accomplishments – it would take a full-length book to tell the whole story – has been the discovery by forest researchers of an antibiotic to help protect white pine timber from blister rust. Other big stories in this field for the past two decades are the work in modern tree genetics and the employment of one little bug to protect larch trees from another little bug.

Recreation Growth

With new highways and the great increase in the number of autos, more persons than ever are taking advantage of the forests, lakes and streams of western Montana for camping, fishing, boating and hunting. In Operation Outdoors foresters have been working arduously to locate possible new recreation areas.

Spotlighting the need for this expansion of facilities is the fact that recreation visits jumped from less than a million in 1948 to more than three million in 1959.

Vast Timber Industry

Working hand in hand with the vast timber industry of Missoula and surrounding areas, the Forest Service since the end of World War II has seen the sale of timber on the 16 national forests administered from Missoula jump about five times.

New timber roads, a pulp mill, a new veneer plant and special mills for small timber plus expansion of some of the larger mills have all helped to boost dollar income in and near the Garden City.

Aerial Spraying

The first large-scale aerial spraying of forest insects took place in 1947, marking another great advance in pest control. Another big event in the 1940-60 era was the establishment of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in its present form in 1940. There are now nearly two million acres of wilderness and primitive areas in Montana’s more than 16 million acres of national forests.

Then there was the start in 1950 of the cooperative forest management program in which federal, state and private organizations joined forces for protection of the forests. Project Skyfire was started five years ago to look into the possibility of controlling lightning fires – cause of many blazes every year.

Mother Nature dumped a big job in the lap of the Forest Service in August of 1959 when the Hebgen Lake earthquake shook loose an entire mountainside in one of the region’s forests and dumped it into the Madison River Canyon. The Forest Service played a major role in evacuating those trapped in the scenic area, and then made a complete written and pictorial analysis of what happened as a result of the violent shocks.

Taking a look into the next two decades, there is little doubt that forest researchers will turn up an amazing new array of fire and insect control methods in their constant search to protect and utilize our great stands of timber to the utmost.