2020 Lolo National Forest Annual Report

This report is also available in a printable PDF format

Contents: Improving Forest Conditions | Shared Stewardship & Partnerships | Continued Customer Service | Enhancing Recreation Opportunities | Improving Access & Sustaining Infrastructure | Wildland Fire Response, Suppression and Management | Where we are now? A Message from the Forest Supervisor

2020 presented many challenges and employees met those with a dedication to continued service, creative solutions, and a commitment to our agency priorities; improving the condition of the Forest, promoting shared stewardship by increasing partnerships, providing customer service, enhancing recreation opportunities, improving access, and sustaining infrastructure.

Priority: Improving Forest Conditions

Forest Products - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report Working to improve the condition of the forest and reduce wildfire risk to our communities and first responders is at the very core of conservation and the Forest Service mission. We work hard to use every tool available to promote and sustain a resilient forest. Those tools include prescribed burning, timber sales, noxious weed treatments, noncommercial mechanical fuel treatments, and reforestation. This work restores ecosystem function and provides jobs and economic benefits for rural communities.

Forest Products: The forest sold 65 million board feet of commercial timber and other wood products treating 7,442 acres for a sale value of $3.2 million, directly supporting local and regional economies.

Non-commercial Thinning & Hand Piling: Crews completed 1,620 acres of thinning and 97 acres of thinning/piling

A prescribed burn - Lolo NF 2020 Annual ReportPrescribed Fire: Crews completed 20 prescribed burn operations for a total of 1,620 acres

Reforestation: The Lolo National Forest planted 530,500 seedlings across 2,536 acres.

Noxious Weed Treatments: Treated over 6,128 acres of invasive weeds.

Joint Chiefs’ Funding: Treated 1,048 acres using prescribed fire, thinning, and pile burning.

Climbing to improve tree species: Silviculturists climbed 21 Whitebark Pine and 17 Ponderosa pine trees to collect cones to produce 79 bags of pollen. Cone & pollen collection helps to cultivate desirable tree species with desirable traits. Foresters collect cones from superior trees that will later be grown for a short period at a tree nursery and then planted. This work is helping to maintain forested landscapes for generations to come for critical species.

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Priority: Shared Stewardship & Partnerships

It takes a broad range of partnerships, including our unique and congressionally designated relationships with states and tribes to make a difference. Shared Stewardship is an invitation to partners and stakeholders to set landscape-scale priorities, leverage resources, and work across boundaries to improve forest and watershed conditions and protect communities.

Good Neighbor Authority: The Missoula Ranger District initiated work within the Grant Creek Fuels Reduction project area with the MT DNRC under the first Good Neighbor Authority Agreement for the Lolo National Forest to reduce wildfire risk by removing about 87 acres of fuel in the Wildland Urban Interface. Revenue generated from the sale will go to fund staffing and restoration.

Morell Road rehab - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Morrell Creek

Morrell Creek Restoration Project, Seeley Lake Ranger District: The upper reaches of the Morrell stream corridor, an important tributary to fisheries of the Blackfoot River, underwent extensive restoration efforts this past summer in ongoing response to the 2017 fire season. With the help of partners at Trout Unlimited, Big Blackfoot Chapter, treatments along 5,000 feet of this stream will reduce sediment inputs, improve sediment transport, and enhance the floodplain. These treatments included a reconstruction of the channel’s dimension, bank stabilization, planting native vegetation for natural vegetation recovery, rerouting a road away from the stream bank, rehabilitating access routes, and noxious weeds treatments within the project area. This work will improve riparian and ecosystem function along with fisheries habitat.

Ninemile Watershed Restoration
Ninemile Watershed photo courtesy Trout Unlimited

Watershed Restoration & Placer Mine Rehabilitation: On the Ninemile Ranger District, the Forest and partner, Trout Unlimited, completed 3,500 feet of stream restoration in Upper Ninemile Creek to fulfill the fourth phase of a multi-year, multiple-partnership effort. Approximately 25 acres of floodplain and wetland were restored, multiple meanders reestablished, and 90,000 cy. (6,000 dump trucks) of earthwork moved to carve out new meanders through 20-30 ft. mine tailings while infusing nearly $750,000 into the local economy and restoration construction industry. All work was funded and conducted by project partners: Trout Unlimited, Missoula County, Montana DNRC, Montana DEQ, Montana. FWP, National Forest Foundation and private landowners.

Horse Haven Adoption Partnership: The Ninemile Ranger District worked closely with non-profit Horse Haven to place retired stock in great adoptive homes. The animals have wonderful retirements and bring joy to people’s lives! The non-profit placed 10 head of Forest Service stock this year into adoptive homes for retirements.

Habitat Improvement Partnerships, Ninemile Ranger District: Long-standing partnerships on the Ninemile Ranger District were the driving force behind 2,560 acres of habitat enhancement in 2020 which included thinning and prescribed burning. These treatment accomplishments were made possible by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, the Mule Deer Foundation, Wild Sheep Foundation and Upland Game Bird Enhancement program.

Before picture in Ninemile Habitat Improvement  - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Habitat Improvement: Before
After picture in Ninemile Habitat Improvement  - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Habitat Improvement: After

Over 45 Large Wood Structures were installed at three project sites; Twelvemile Creek, Fishtrap Creek, and Upper Prospect Creek to improve critical habitat for fish. Large woody debris helps provide habitat and refuge for spawning and juvenile fish, reduces erosion and sediment from moving downstream, slows stream speeds, and provides shade and cooler waters, stabilizes banks.

Reforestation Partnerships: when natural regeneration isn't possible, reforestation efforts are important to the recovery of burned areas and partnerships help make this happen. Partnerships with the National Forest Foundation, Arbor Day Foundation, Plant a Tree, and One Tree Planted gave $160,000 in partner dollars to purchase and plant 458,000 seedlings.

Reforestation - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Photo by Dave Gardner Creative courtesy of the National Forest Foundation.

Partners installed over 53,400 willow cuttings with the help of partners and volunteers on 3 project sites to aid stream and wetland rehabilitation.

Installing willow cuttings - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Installing willow cuttings

Crews worked to install 4 new Aquatic Organism Passage Structures on the Seeley Lake Ranger District to address post-fire effects and ensure aquatic organism passage, or the ability for fish and other aquatic creatures to move up or downstream under roads. These improvements increase ecological connectivity and improve watershed condition, while also protecting infrastructure to withstand flooding, run-off, or future debris flows.

Dunham Creek AOP - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report
Dunham Creek AOP

Habitat & Watershed Rehabilitation: Approximately 29.7 miles of road remediation and decommissioning for wildlife habitat was accomplished. Approximately 1.7 miles of road realignment/reroutes were accomplished for riparian and floodplain rehabilitation.

Continuing the Carnivore Monitoring Partnership – Southwest Crown of the Continent: The Forest Service, along with Swan Valley Connections, Wilderness Society, Blackfoot Challenge, Clearwater Resource Council, the Rocky Mountain Research Station, and other partners, continue to work on a carnivore monitoring project (2012-2022) within the Southwest Crown of the Continent landscape. This landscape spans across the Seeley Lake Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest, along with the Swan and Lincoln Districts on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests. Focal species for this monitoring are Canada lynx, wolverine and fisher. Using a combination of bait stations and track surveys, genetic information has been collected for over 40 individual wolverines and 50 individual lynx to date. The monitoring is associated with the SWC Collaborative Forest Landscape Program with goals of monitoring population changes over time.

Canada Lynx
Lynx in the snow. Photo courtesy Swan Valley Connections

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Priority: Continued Customer Service

Service during COVID-19: During 2020, outdoor places were more important than ever. The Forest Recreation staff worked hard to come up with creative solutions to keep recreation sites, rentals and facilities open and operating for public use. Additionally, front desks remained open with virtual services by window, phone or online providing services like free wood cutting permits and visitor information, and Christmas tree permits.

Ninemile Remount Depot: During 2020, Ninemile will winter 211 head of horses and mules from around the Northern Region. The District produced 498 tons of hay - the most produced in the last 11 years.

Stock at Ninemile - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report

Resource Advisory Committees: From 2019-2020, the Lolo National Forest recruited, nominated and convened three Secure Rural Schools Title II Resource Advisory Committees in Missoula, Sanders and Mineral Counties.

  • Sanders Resource Advisory Committee funded 25 projects for a total of $492,169.
  • Mineral Resource Advisory Committee funded 12 projects for a total of $134,877.
  • Missoula Resource Advisory Committee funded 13 projects for a total of $151,537.

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Priority: Enhancing Recreation Opportunities

The National Forests were more important than ever this year, and the number of Forest recreation users was substantially higher this year, with increases in camping, hiking, and other recreation activities.

Big Larch Campground Sign - Lolo NF 2020 Annual ReportRecreation Fee Proposal: After years of planning, the Mineral, Sanders and Missoula County Resource Advisory Committees made recommendations to move forward with implementation of recreation fee increases for 34 total recreation sites including 19 campgrounds and 15 cabin/lookout rentals or other sites within Sanders, Mineral and Missoula counties. These increases will help the Lolo National Forest continue to provide high levels of service to visitors at popular recreation sites.

Project Highlight- West Fork Swamp Creek Puncheon, Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District: This puncheon was built to cross three seasonally flooded watercourses and was funded with partnership dollars from Montana FWP- OHV Grant. The puncheon is 60 feet long with a 20 foot stone turnpike and built to engineering standards to support hikers, OHV, and stock.

West Fork Swamp Puncheon - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report

City of Missoula Front Country Ranger Partnership: A jointly funded and key partnership position with the City of Missoula, the Front Country Ranger monitored and maintained the motorized and non-motorized trail systems in Blue Mountain Recreation Area, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, and Pattee Canyon Recreation Area. Some of the notable accomplishment numbers from the work accomplished this season:Trail signs in the Rattlesnake - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report

  • Removed 221 gallons of garbage
  • Replaced 4 signs
  • Conducted 400 feet of fence work
  • Cleaned 17 campfire rings
  • Made over 650 public contacts (socially-distanced)

Snowbowl Ski Area - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report Snowbowl Ski Area: After years of planning, environmental assessment and partnership, Montana Snowbowl Ski Area opened Phase 1 of their expansion for the 2019-2020 season with one new ski lift and about 10 new runs / 600 new acres on the Missoula Ranger District, creating more recreation opportunities for beginners.

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Priority: Improving Access & Sustaining Infrastructure

Installation of Vault Toilet - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report Lolo National Forest roads, trails, and bridges provide critical access for management, fire suppression and public recreation opportunities. Additionally, the Forest has a system of culverts, gates, and facilities to support and sustain forest operations. This year, engineering and recreation staff worked hard to maintain, build, and replace this essential infrastructure, travel corridors and beloved trails.

Infrastructure accomplishments:

  • 250 miles of road maintenance; 100 miles of road brushing
  • 20 miles of dust abatement
  • 20 gates replaced or repaired
  • 2 deficient bridge removals

Morgan Case Homestead - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report The first Phase of the Murphy Creek Trail Project was implemented which includes a new trailhead and trail system located 4 miles west of Superior, MT. During Phase 1, crews constructed the trailhead parking lot, the installation of one new vault toilet, the construction of a 3.5-mile mountain bike loop, and the installation of a partial property split rail fence. The new trail is open to mountain bikes, hikers and cross-country skiers. Most of Phase 1 was funded by a RTP Grant, the Idaho Forest Group, and the Mineral County Community Foundation.

Smokes Cabin Bridge - Lolo NF 2020 Annual ReportProject Highlight -Preserving Historic Structures Staff spent a week replacing the roof on the Morgan Case Homestead, a historic and popular rental in the Rock Creek Area of the Missoula Ranger District. The project took 32 bundles of shingles and 14 pounds of nails!

North Fork of the Blackfoot Trail bridge replacements, Scapegoat Wilderness, Seeley Lake Ranger District: Crews completed the final phase of construction on the Smokes Cabin trail bridge located on the major thoroughfare, Hobnail Tom Trail, which provides backcountry access for hunters, outfitters & guides and the general public. The bridge was replaced using stock and helicopters over the course of the summer.

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Wildland Fire Response, Suppression and Management

Wildfire - Lolo NF 2020 Annual Report 3,035 total acres were burned by wildfire in 2020 on the Lolo National Forest. Quick response and rapid suppression by crews was a key factor in keeping the majority of the 104 wildfires that started on the Lolo National Forest in check. Of those fires, 25 were lighting-caused and 79 were human-caused.

Largest wildfire for 2020: Cinnabar Fire

  • Start Date: August 19, 2020
  • Duration: Approximately 3 months
  • Location: Welcome Creek Wilderness, Missoula Ranger District
  • Total Acres: 2,955
  • Total Cost: $5,077,000
  • Managed for 14 days by a Type 2 incident Management Team

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Where we are now? A Message from the Forest Supervisor

As I reflect on 2020, I am struck by the importance our National Forests played in the pandemic. Our lands provided a refuge for people to recreate, exercise, relax, and build resilience and strength.

In addition, these lands contributed to economic and business relationships that supported families and communities. That we continued to provide these opportunities and services through such a difficult year is a reflection of the dedication of our employees, our partners, our communities and our fellow government agencies. Together we learned new ways of doing business, communicating, and staying safe. We will honor these lessons as we move forward into the New Year. It is with respect for everyone who engages in the use and enjoyment of our public lands that I thank you for our success and welcome you to work with us and enjoy the Lolo National Forest in 2021.

Carolyn Upton
Lolo National Forest Supervisor

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