Forestry and the Lumber Industry

The Rocky Mountains are covered in trees and so offer a viable resource in timber. Much of the area’s economy depends on the lumber industry including wood products and housing materials.

The forest industry in the Rocky Mountains depends less on plywood and wood-veneer industries than that of the forest industry located further west in Oregon and Washington. There is a large lumber industry in the Rocky Mountains but the forest growth is not as heavy as it is on the lower and moister areas of the western slopes of the nearby Cascade Mountains. The lumber industry in the Rocky Mountains is much smaller than that of the Pacific Coast region but still accounts for a great deal of the local economy.

Logging in the Rocky Mountains has yet to reach extinction unlike logging in the Upper Great Lakes because of the inaccessibility of the land, the large amount of forested land, and more restricted uses of wood today, compared to a century ago when the lumber industry was key in the Upper Great Lakes. Forestry makes up the largest amount of the rural land use in the Northern Rockies. It also accounts for the largest number of active jobs.


In Montana, forests account for about 23,000,000 acres or almost a quarter of the total land area, more than 14,000,000 of these acres are used in the commercial forestry industry. The manufacturing process of lumber and wood products is the state’s leading industry. Montana is one of the nation’s top producers of softwood logs, which are processed into lumber in Montana’s sawmills.

In 2000, Montana produced over 1.2 billion board feet of lumber; this went down 10% from 1999. Plywood production decreased as well in 2000. Some secondary sectors experienced increases in production as well as the log-home industry.

Lumber prices are extremely sensitive to fluctuations in the home-building industry and timber cutting allowances are dictated by federal courts that must protect the endangered species laws that also indirectly protect old growth forests. These factors along with energy costs, foreign imports and federal timber policy all affect Montana’s lumber industry directly. The loss of a lumber mill often can account for the loss of an entire economy in some of the more remote valleys of Western Montana. There are attempts at finding alternatives to logging jobs.


The University of Montana has a very proficient forestry programs that is currently working with the state to conserve and protect the forests of Montana. One program that is active is the Forestry Assistance Program. This program works to maintain and improve the health of Montana’s forests, their watersheds, and the communities that depend upon the forestry/lumber industry. The ways in which this is accomplished is through good forestry practices, forest stewardship- which works to assist family forest landowners in gaining knowledge about their forest resources and opportunities. Another program which works to preserve the forests is the Conservation Seedling Nursery this produces and distributes seedlings for conservation plantings to landowners, and the state and federal landowners who works for conservation efforts.

Logging affects on Old Growth Forests and National Parks

Today, there is an effort being put forth to protect old growth forests and preserve the integrity of national parks. This is often in opposition with the logging forces who depend upon the resource of timber for work and those who primarily worry more about the economy than preservation. One instance of this was the Healthy Forests Restoration Act; this was proposed to help protect the forests of Montana but ultimately increased logging in the national forests. The original intent of the act was to protect the old growth forests of Montana while also protecting the animal and plant life that exist within. This act proposed to work by protecting the forests from manmade fires and by increasing jobs by putting people to work restoring the national forests. Unfortunately, this act limited the amount of public involvement in policy that dictated what amount of logging that could occur, as well as the act does not work to protect the old growth forests from developers and loggers. The first HFRA project is called the Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction project on the Bitterroot National Forest. The proposed Middle East Fork project would mix a small amount of community protection work with logging over nine square miles of forest (6,000 acres in total), including logging in previously unlogged old-growth forests. This would greatly affect many of the native species. Overall, this act would be more detrimental than helpful to the local community in that it would eliminate part of the forests in this area, ultimately changing the landscape forever.

Many organizations, including the University of Montana, do work to preserve and protect the landscape and national forests while also participating in the lumber industry. Much of this is done through planned cutting and replanting.

Healthy forest project threaten old-growth forests. (n.d.). Native forest network. Retrieved June 2,
     2010, from

Hudson, John C. Across This Land'. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 2002.

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