Forest Service Trying Explosives to Fell Trees

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – U.S. Forest Service workers have exchanged axes and saws for sticks of high explosives in southwestern Montana to bring down beetle-killed pine trees that pose unique dangers.

Crew member Gordon Ash said workers brought down hundreds of trees last week in the Pioneer Mountains by blowing up the trunks. He said beetle-killed trees often rot from the inside out, making them prone to shattering and falling in unpredictable ways.

“You’d calculate the proper amount of explosive, and then fix that on the tree with shrink wrap,” Ash said. “You’d put it right where a face-cut would be, and sever it off right at the point where you put the explosive — almost like a directional fall. The idea is to link as many of those trees as possible to be efficient. In three and a half days, we did 500 trees.”

The trees were also in difficult locations — overhanging parts of the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway in the Wise River Ranger District.

Charlie Showers, engineering program leader at the Missoula Technology and Development Center, said the danger of cutting down rotted trees in tough locations is another reason to use explosives.

“We just don’t have a whole lot of really good sawyers,” Showers said. “The days of going out and doing that activity are long gone in the Forest Service.”

He said crews are learning the most efficient way to bring down beetle-killed trees with explosives. Depending on how that goes, workers could use explosives to take out dead trees along highways in the Helena National Forest.

“My gut feeling is telling me when you’re looking at massive amounts of trees on steep ground that you can’t get at with a 30-pound chainsaw, where you’ve got rot and limbs hanging them up in the canopy, I think this is really going to be a very viable tool for the ranger,” Showers said. “Where we can’t go in with logging equipment, explosives are the safest way, generally.”

Robert Beckley, also of the Missoula Technology and Development Center, said he’s seen little effect from the blasting on wildlife.

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