Storm Downs Trees at Biological Station

By Beacon Staff

The winter storm that hit the Flathead Valley this weekend hammered the Flathead Lake Biological Station, downing more than 30 trees in the 80-acre old-growth forest there.

Thirty or more of the station’s largest ponderosa pines and about one-third of the larger grand and Douglas firs on the grounds were blown down, according to a press release from FLBS Director Jack Stanford. Many of the trees were uprooted, rather than snapped off, perhaps owing to the ground being very dry and not frozen, Standford said.

“I have taught ecology among these old fellows for nearly 40 years and I thought their greatest danger was bugs, not wind,” Stanford said. “Some of these trees were over 400 years old. Certainly, there is no record of a wind storm causing this kind of damage in the 110-year history of the station.”

The storm hit Northwest Montana late Friday evening, bringing sub-zero temperatures and wind gusts around 40 mph to the valley. On the East Shore of Flathead Lake, downed trees knocked out power lines and made portions of MT Highway 35 impassable from south of Woods Bay to Polson Saturday morning. A gust of wind also toppled a tree onto a car on the highway near Polson around 7:30 a.m., killing the 24-year-old Ronan man who was driving.

According to Stanford, the storm’s power increased through the morning Saturday until about 11 a.m. when the wind velocity “increased dramatically in a sudden burst, devastating the FLBS forest.”

“Maintenance Supervisor Mark Potter and I had just sawed out the entrance road and got the fire truck back undercover when we looked back up the road and saw the trees coming down like dominoes,” Standford said. “It took the rest of the day to get the entrance road open again.”

Roofing on the station’s Freshwater Research Lab was blown off and two cabins were hit by falling trees, but none of the FLBS buildings were seriously damaged, Stanford said.

The biological station is open for its usual operations today. Plans for the downed trees will be announced later.