Resource Management

Invasive Species Management

Invasive species include non-native plants, insects, and pathogens that threaten the health of National Forests and Grasslands.  The primary means of preventing, containing, or controlling invasive species is through vegetative management practices and by the use of biological agents such as insects, rusts, molds and other parasites on host plants.  Additionally, herbicides may be utilized to provide short-term protection on specific sites.  

The Bitterroot National Forest invasive plant management program increased ten-fold in scope with the signing of the 2003 Forest Noxious Weed Treatment Project Record of Decision. The document identified new expanded objectives for the Forest and provided a road map for achieving those objectives over the next ten years.  It emphasized application of the progressive principles of Integrated Pest Management.  An additional 500,000 acres was added to the Bitterroot Forest theater of operations for invasive species management with the completion in 2010 of the inter-Forest Selway Wilderness Environmental Impact Statement.  The Forest engages in close partnerships with a variety of interest groups and institutions  to battle invasive plants and animal species.   A sampling of the cooperators includes: the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; Ravalli County; Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks; the Montana Conservation Corps, and the Ravalli County Off-Road Vehicle Users Association among many others.   Recently, the Forest joined forces with the State of Montana and Ravalli County in implementing an early detection and prevention education program  focused on new aquatic invader species such as the zebra mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil and the New Zealand Mudsnail.

Grazing Management

The Bitterroot  Forest  sponsors  cattle grazing under a permit system on about 190,000 acres of its land area.   In the early part of the 20th Century,  large bands of domestic  sheep  grazed between the Sapphire Mountains east of the Bitterroot River on into the Selway River uplands of Idaho.   However, later in the century, all of the sheep permits converted to domestic cattle.   Currently, about 1,300 cows with calves can graze on 20 different range allotments scattered over all four ranger districts.   Twelve local ranch operations take advantage of the summer forage offered under this permit system.   Forest rangeland specialists work regularly with the local ranchers to determine range readiness, monitor ecological condition and develop management plans on the allotments.   Updated environmental analyses have been completed on about 90% of the allotments to date with the remainder scheduled for completion within the next few years.

Prescribed Fire

The Forest’s prescribed fire management program plays an important role in sustaining ecosystems by reducing heavy fuel loadings, reducing fire risk to homes along the wildland urban interface of the Forest, and by changing vegetation composition and structure to a condition that allows ecosystems to function within their historical range.

The warm, dry ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir vegetation types characterize much of the interface area. Thickets of Douglas-fir in the understory have become established in many of these previously open stands, which puts them at risk for higher intensity wildfires. Under natural conditions, low intensity wildland fires frequently underburned these drier sites and maintained them in a more open condition. Forest managers will continue to reduce fuels in these priority areas and coordinate their efforts with Ravalli County, homeowners and research scientists.

Although fire in the ecosystem is a natural and revitalizing process, it does have other consequences. There may be hazy skies, temporary smoke pooling in the valley, and some visible burn patches on the mountain slopes. However, prescribed burns can be timed to allow control of the prescribed burn length, smoke dispersal and fire intensity. In contrast, wildland fires often create more long-lasting smoke. The Forest has been monitoring air quality in relation to smoke from wildland fires and prescribed fires for several years and works closely with Montana Airshed Group to minimize the impacts of smoke.

Vegetation Management

The Bitterroot National Forest vegetation management program oversees the vegetative aspects of our natural resource management activities.  All activities are governed by federal regulation, forest service direction, and the Bitterroot Forest Plan.

Our forest culturists oversee the reforestation, tree improvement and Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) programs.  The reforestation program encompasses such activities as cone/seed collection and tree planting to meet prescribed stocking standards after timber harvest or wildfire.  Our tree improvement program collects vegetation material from superior trees identified across the forest.  The regional tree improvement program uses this material for genetic retention, seed production plantations, and research.  The TSI program handles all pre-commercial tree thinning and slashing.

Our silviculturists determine best harvest methods (understory thinning, etc.)and long term stand management objectives and plans, provide analysis for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, and designate other forest resources such as old growth stands.

Our foresters assist with NEPA analysis, determine best logging practices, collect tree measurement data, perform timber sale appraisals, and build timber sale contract packages for public bidding.

Lastly, our timber sale administrators perform contract administration once a timber sale contract has been awarded to the highest bidder.

Projects range in size from small plantation improvement thinning and right-of-way timber sales, to much larger post-fire reforestation projects and large scale fuels reduction timber sales – to name a few.  All vegetation management activities are coordinated with other local, state, and federal agencies, as well as local communities and organizations and are approved by the district ranger or forest supervisor.

Wilderness back-country spraying of trails

Wilderness trail weed treatment in the Anaconda-Pinlter Wilderness

Cattle Grazing on the Forest

Cattle Grazing on the Forest

MEF Prescribed Fire

Middle East Fork Prescribed Fire - Sula Ranger District