Nearly 30 years ago, a coalition of longtime adversaries turned unlikely bedfellows invited the public to a weeklong workshop in the woods to have a chat about one of the most polarizing issues of the time – land management.
Surrounded by stakeholders whose interests ran deep and diverse – almost as diverse as the bristling stands of grand and alpine fir, spruce, larch and cedar – the folks in attendance were finally able to see the forest for the trees, and the Flathead Family Forestry Expo was born.
Tree huggers stood alongside tree cutters in a united front as hundreds of area fifth-graders and their families learned about logging, as well as about fisheries, forest fire, back-country camping and safety, ecology, wildlife habitat, and more. Most importantly, they learned about how one affects the other.
Now in its 27th year, the premise of the Family Forestry Expo remains the same – to convey the common ground of sustainable forest management, and strike a balance of responsible natural resource development, conservation and recreation.
For decades, forest management has been riddled with clashing views over public land use, pitting wilderness against timber production, non-motorized against motorized, commercial interests against wildlife.
The so-called “Timber Wars” gave birth to hard-liners accustomed to digging in their heels, entrenched in their ideologies and not given to making concessions.
The Expo helped changed that.
Today, eco-nuts and timber sawyers, hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, and nearly everyone else with a stake in the management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest comes together every year. They convene at the Trumbull Creek Experimental Forest, located on F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property near Columbia Falls.
According to Spotted Bear District Ranger Deb Mucklow, who helped organize the first expo in 1989 and has been involved ever since, the event draws together land managers from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as well as organizations like the Audubon Society, Back Country Horsemen and the Montana Native Plant society.
“It’s not one agenda against another agenda, it’s a common goal of education, and having good information for people to be informed and educated about the special places and the forest that surrounds the places that we live and work in,” Mucklow said.
The Family Forestry Expo has become a mainstay for community forestry education in the Flathead Valley.
This year, nearly 1,200 students from 28 different schools will visit the forested site during the course of the week, which runs May 2-6, and more than 500 people are expected to turn out at the family day on Saturday, May 7.
Some students will tour a local mill, while other learning stations are arranged along a half-mile, wood-chipped trail at the forest site.
The goal of Expo is to present unbiased information to students and families about the role of Northwest Montana forests and the opportunities and resources they provide in everyday life.
Natural resource professionals become teachers, leading activities on the topics of forest wildlife and fisheries, archaeology, forest management, forest plants, wildland fire, and forest riparian areas.
This year, eight classes will tour the Stoltze mill; the remaining classes will have the opportunity to take part in a portable sawmill demonstration and visit stations representing lumber manufacturing.
On May 7, families are invited to share in expo activities from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Trumbull Creek Educational Forest, located about two miles north of the junction of U.S. Highway 2 and Montana Highway 40, west of Columbia Falls.
The family-oriented event features a short forest walk with educational stations and demonstrations along the way. Each station provides information and hands-on activities that allow participants to learn about the many uses of forests, both private and public.
Presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. feature logging equipment demonstrations, the Forest Service Spotted Bear Ranger District mule pack string, and a logging sports demonstration by Flathead Valley Community College logging sports team. Various exhibits featuring local organizations, businesses and agencies that deal with natural resources will be on display.
Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. a free logging camp lunch will be provided, compliments of Family Forestry Expo.
The Family Forestry Expo event takes place through the dedicated involvement of over 20 diverse organizations such as local service clubs, forest industry, government natural resource agencies, conservation groups, professional societies, local businesses, as well as interested individuals and numerous local donations.
For more information on the Expo, visit http://www.familyforestryexpo.org/