Creating grizzly bear habitat using adaptive forest management tools
A grizzly up close. Creating more habitat is key to increasing the bear population in Northwest Montana's Kootenai National Forest. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Creating grizzly bear habitat using adaptive forest management tools

For the last two years the Evergreen Foundation has been involved in an effort to create more grizzly bear habitat in Northwest Montana's Kootenai National Forest via a demonstration project on nearby Hecla Mining Company forestland in the Bull River Valley south of Troy.

Next week - as part of this effort - we will be interviewing our old friend Chad Oliver, a PhD silviculturist and professor emeritus at the Yale University School of the Environment in New Haven, Connecticut.

We first interviewed Chad in an Evergreen cover story in September 1993, three years after the federal government listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species. He was still at the University of Washington and was involved in crafting an alternative to President Clinton's economically devastating proposal for managing federal forests in the Pacific Northwest.

When I interviewed him in his campus office on July 12, 1993 I asked him if he thought the President's Ecosystem Management Assessment Team had given his adaptive management ideas a fair hearing. He responded with a firm, "No."

Many others did give him a fair hearing. His extensive research took him to 24 countries on six of Earth's seven continents.

Switch reels and come forward 31 years. Now retired from academia, Oliver has taken a keen interest in our use of adaptive forest management as he described it in "Forest Stand Dynamics," a book he wrote in 1990 and updated in 1996. Oliver's work builds on that of the late David Smith, his major professor at Yale. Smith pioneered forest stand dynamics in the 1940s.

In practice, adaptive forest management relies in part on creating habitat niches in forests by increasing stand structure and age-class diversity during the thinning process. This is forest stand dynamics at ground level.

We described the process in "How Adaptive Forest Management Can Increase Biological Diversity," an Evergreen report we published two years ago. Our report features Chas Vincent, a Libby resident and former Montana House and Senate leader, who returned to his hometown to restart Vincent Logging Company.

Photographs we took for our report show that after Chas completed his thinning work - and sunlight and moisture was again able to reach the soil - berries, herbs and forbs began to sprout and grow. These are important food sources for bears, elk, deer and birds that aren't found in forests that hold too many trees for the natural carrying capacity of the land.

When the late Booth Gardner was Washington's Governor [1985-1993] and Oliver was a member of his Timber Team, he co-authored an eye opening booklet titled "Landscape Management: The Key to Ending the Forestry War."

We are delighted to be interviewing Chad again - this time to discuss the role adaptive forest management can play in creating more grizzly habitat on the Kootenai National Forest.

Why more habitat? In part to help safely route migrating grizzlies around rural Northwest Montana communities via travel corridors that meander through the niches Chas has created. But also to help increase the bear's population and the diversity of its' gene pool - keys to stabilizing bear numbers at around 100 in the Cabinat-Yaak Ecosystem.

Our collaborators in this project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the agency's Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

More to come!

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