Healthy Montana Forests

Forests are for Everyone

Of Montana’s 94,109,542 acres, forests cover about one-fourth or 22.5 million acres. This 22.5 million acre land base is divided about equally between forests east and west of the Continental Divide. Due to the influence of moist air masses that flow in from the Pacific ocean, forests west of the Divide contain many more tree species than are found in forests in Eastern Montana. Ponderosa Pine dominates “the east side,” but “west side” forests include larch, lodgepole, Douglas-fir, grand fir, spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar. Climate is also a significant natural force in Montana forests. West of the Continental Divide, forests are cooler and more moist, a result of the influence of the Pacific Coast weather patterns. Firs, lodgepole, larch and hemlock are the dominant tree species. East of the Divide, the species composition is different, in part a result of continental climatic conditions. Forests are drier, hotter and more open. Ponderosa pine is the dominant tree species. Eventually, eastern Montana forests give way to range land, in much the same manner as they do in parts of eastern Oregon and Washington.

National Forest System (NSF) lands are divided into regions across the country.  Region One is comprised of parts of North Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and all of Montana.  NSF lands in Montana cover 19.4 million acres or about 85% of the total forested acres in the state. The harvesting of trees to meet citizens’ daily needs is only one of the many uses of our public timberlands. The forests also provide gas, oil, and hard core minerals. Wildlife and livestock rely on the forest lands for grazing. The national forests provide camping, hiking, biking, snowmobiIing, hunting, fishing, and skiing experiences. Ninety-three percent of recreation takes place on these forest lands. Through proper management to ensure healthy forests, we can all share in the beauty and resources of our forests.

In Montana, there is approximately 8.8 million acres of non-reserved timberlands.  “Non-reserved” is defined as land available for harvest, and capable of growing at least 20 cubic feet of wood per acre per year. Montana west of the Continental Divide contains some of the most productive forestland in the nation. More than 40% has the potential to produce more than 85 cubic feet per acre per year, and more than 60% is capable of growing between 50 and 119 cubic feet per acre per year. Reserved timberlands consists of 3.4 million acres of Wilderness, seven Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) equaling 686,550 acres, and 6.4 million acres of Inventoried Roadless Acres (IRAs).  The US Forest Service produced 352mmbf of timber in 2018 or about 90% of their target provided by congress. The timber target for FY 2019 is 400mmbf, which the Region expects to hit by September 30, 2019.  However, our federal forests are still growing and dying at a rate of 9 to 1 compared to annual harvest.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is another federal agency which has jurisdiction over 1.3 million acres of forestlands in Montana.  Approximately 1/3 is restricted to harvest due to Wilderness and Wilderness Study Acres designations, legal access, recreation and the presence of threatened and/or endangered species.  The dominate trees species are Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine. The Montana Probably Sale Quantity (PSQ) is roughly 16mmbf annually.

The National Park Service in Montana occupies 1,037,694 reserved acres and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages another 110,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuges in the state.

The state of Montana owns more than 6.3 million acres, including 5.8 million acres granted to the state by Congress, for school support, in 1889. The Department of State Lands manages timber, surface and mineral resources on these lands, for the sole benefit of the common schools and endowed institutions of Montana.  Of the 6.3 million acres, 540,000 acres are managed for their timber resources.  The DNRC is mandated by state statute to provide 56.9mmbf of timber annually.  Approximately $10 million in stumpage value was added to the Trust and an additional $1.9 million in forest improvement fees were collected in 2018. Please see the 2018 Trust Lands Annual Report for more information.

Forest River Photo

Private Timberland Ownership

It is estimated that there are over 50,000 family forest owners owning over 4 million forestland acres and roughly 900,000 acres of industrial private timberlands in Montana.  Many owners manage their private timberlands under a stewardship plan, Tree Farm or in the case of the industrial timberlands, under the national Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program.