By Tim Love and Beth Dodson
UM adjunct instructor and UM associate professor of forest operations 

UM students translate theory into practice in forestry classes


Photo provided

Forest Planning students meet with Blackfoot Valley community members in April 2019.

OVANDO - Students in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana have the unique opportunity to step outside the classroom and into the forest to develop actionable land management plans through a variety of courses.

One of these classes is Forest Planning, where forestry students work together in teams to prepare a forest plan for a landowner. Course instructor Tim Love is a former district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service, Seeley Lake Ranger District and a former board member of the Blackfoot Challenge, a nonprofit whose mission is to coordinate efforts to enhance, conserve and protect the natural resources and rural lifestyle of the Blackfoot River Valley in Montana.

Love thought the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area (BCCA) would be an excellent place for students to learn multiple-resource landscape planning and make recommendations for selected stands and units of land. The Blackfoot Challenge owns the BCCA with oversight provided by a council consisting of 15 members representing agencies, private landowners, recreational user groups and businesses in the local area. The intent is community ownership and management to link social, ecological and economic values together while underscoring the efforts of the Blackfoot Challenge to bring public and private partners to the table to build trust and forge productive relationships.

Brad Weltzien, land steward for the BCCA, selected two forest units where students could apply their training and gain hands-on knowledge during spring semester 2019. Students were tasked with developing a forest plan with recommendations for future management given the current state of those units and broader landscape objectives.

While working on the project, students learned about community conservation areas and how forest planning recommendations can support the community vision of developing a working landscape that balances ecological diversity with local economic stability for the future benefit of the community. The students' work also matches a key priority and objective for the BCCA which is "to utilize the area for education, research and learning opportunities to demonstrate innovative land management and restoration practices and partnerships" (BCCA Management Plan 2nd Edition 12/18/2013).

The collaboration also provides an opportunity for students to learn about a rural community in Montana and the diverse interests of its residents. Students learned the value and connection people have for the area. Additionally, they gained communication skills and an understanding of forest planning at the landscape and ownership levels. The students' recommendations aimed to preserve these values and ethics, while also advancing other landowner objectives. In exchange, members of the community learned from the students how they could enhance resource conditions in the BCCA.

While Forest Planning helps students develop an appreciation of planning for a large area over a long time scale, students in the Forest Stand Management course work with a partnering landowner to develop short-term, stand-level plans. The class is taught by Beth Dodson, UM associate professor of forest operations.

For the past two years, students have developed plans on former industrial timberlands in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy of Montana. Student plans undergo extensive revision throughout the semester in consultation with program faculty and partners, which helps ensure the plans can and will be implemented.

The intensive focus on a single stand helps students bring together the full range of skills and scientific principles while better understanding forest planning at multiple scales and how ownership-level plans interact with stand-level operations. These projects also allow students to experience the Montana outdoors as they build connections with community members and to the land.

Dodson summed up both the impact of these classes and the primary goal of UM's forestry program: "Studying forestry at UM allows students to step into their future roles of professional foresters as they translate theory into practice," she said.


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