POTOMAC - The Montana Conservation Corps (MCC), together with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), has been working on a restoration project at Primm Meadows, north of Highway 200 up Gold Creek. The project involved thinning of smaller trees and will be logged after the ground freezes with the goal in mind of promoting rapid tree growth in the remaining trees.
Originally the homestead of Charles and Mahala Primm, the parklike meadows are not an official campground, however the public is welcome to camp there. The ground has been owned by TNC since 2014 through the Blackfoot-Clearwater Project.
"Walking into Primm Meadows has been described as like walking into a cathedral," said Bebe Crouse with TNC. The forest along the West Fork of Gold Creek opens into meadows and clearings with ponderosa pines more than 400 years old.
Western Montana Stewardship Assistant Mike Schaedel with TNC said, "The [restoration] project involves a mix of hand work using chainsaws and mechanical work completed with logging equipment." The MCC crew of six set up camp at Primm Meadows and worked Oct. 10-14.
"Immediately we were in awe of the landscape; the Gold Creek area has become magnificent, and gives our members a great perspective of how landscapes can be shaped by wildland fire," said Caleb Stewart, MCC field coordinator.
Stewart said their job was to thin the 12-year old lodgepole pine stand in an area that burned in the 2003 Mineral-Primm fire. They used chainsaws to provide more "breathing room" for these other species to thrive including larch, ponderosa and lodgepole.
"Lodgepole pine has a tendency to grow back thick after an area has been scarred by fire and have the potential to choke out and deplete resources from more desirable species, such as larch and ponderosa," said Stewart.
Crouse said much of the young forest sprouted after the 2003 Mineral-Primm fire and today consists of smaller trees. The shorter trees can create ladder fuels, which can help a fire move into the canopy of the old growth.
TNC hopes to return the "crown jewel" area of Primm Meadows into a restored forest.
"This makes the stakes feel high. We want to do the best work we can and mitigate any negative impacts of our restoration work," TNC Western Montana Stewardship Assistant Mike Schaedel said.
"We recognize that hunting season is the time of the greatest public use on these lands," said Schaedel. "The timing of the work we do is based on minimizing negative ecological impacts to the land as well as crew availability." The pre-commercial work was completed before general rifle season.
Following the thinning by MCC, TNC will log the mid-sized Douglas fir that has grown under the old-growth ponderosa pine and western larch. This will start after the ground is frozen because TNC does not want to damage the soil. Weather permitting it will be finished this winter.
This area at Primm Meadows and the West Fork of Gold Creek is normally populated with different animals including bear, deer, muskrats, gophers, Sandhill Cranes, other birds and smaller animals like fish including bull trout redds found by Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) this fall.
The restoration timber project is greater than 50 feet from the edge of the West Fork of Gold Creek. The crews maintain that protection of the area is a high priority.
"All work will meet or exceed the requirements of the Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) laws laid out by the state of Montana," said Schaedel.
During the restoration project, there have not been any conflicts with humans or wildlife and it has received strong support according to Schaedel. "People who know of Primm Meadows want to make sure that its grandeur and ecological function are preserved and that is exactly what we are doing."
Montana Conservation Corps Field Coordinator Caleb Stewart thinning during the Primm Meadows restoration project.
Schaedel enjoyed being in the meadows. "As a TNC employee, it is an honor to help to protect and preserve this stand of ancient trees. We were working there to help restore the fire shaped landscape to a semblance of its original form," Schaedel added.
Stewart thinks it is important for MCC members to see how land management agencies and non-profits can work together.
"Often times, we work with government partners, and I believe we do our participants a great service to work with other agencies that are managing our public lands," said Stewart.
"It was a valuable and important project, not only because the idea is to create a healthy forest, but also because it allowed our participants to think about the world and the work we do in terms of generations beyond themselves," Stewart continued. "The work we did will not be immediately apparent; we were forced to think in terms of the generations coming after us, our children, our grandchildren, even our great-grandchildren."