NFLA Auction was a BIG Success!

The Sondreson Community Hall was packed with almost 100 people on Friday night to raise money to re-finish the Hall floor. Before the auction began, participants enjoyed a “Sloppy Joe” dinner. Richard Hildner, the auctioneer, kept the crowd going with his antics. Everything was auctioned from a sled and a dump truck load of topsoil to a gourmet dinner with fine wines and a drift boat trip.

Other services by North Forkers were auctioned including lessons in fly fishing, dancing, guitar playing, and noxious weed pulling. Beautiful baked goods were sold through a silent auction on one side of the Hall. At the end of the evening, the NFLA met its goal of $5,000 for the floor project.

Many thanks to those who donated food and drinks: Karen & Gary McDonough, Larry Wilson, Bill Meeker, Ed Neneman, Bob & Jackie Graham, Duke & Naomi Hoiland, Carol Grobe, and Alice Caldwell. The North Fork Worship Family donated $375 for the floor project and Richard Hildner/Suzanne Daniel made a donation at the end of the evening to put the total over $5000. Everyone had a great time!

First float trip of the year

On Tuesday, July 9, three rafts and one kayak transported thirteen North Forkers down the North Fork of the Flathead River from the Border to Wurtz. The weather was perfect for this community float sponsored by the NFLA. Although the river is getting lower every day, this route still had enough water to get the boats through even the most shallow places. The Kintla Rapid near the Wurtz take-out was alive in all its glory producing huge waves that drenched and excited the paddlers.

Wedge Canyon 10 years later

Following is an article about North Fork fire mitigation efforts since the Wedge fire written by Molly Shepherd in anticipation of our Firewise Day workshop. It appeared in place of Larry Wilson’s column in the Hungry Horse News on July 3, 2013.

Ten years ago, on July 18, 2003, a lightning strike in the Whitefish Range ignited the Wedge Canyon Fire.  Before the fire finally died out in the Fall, it had destroyed seven homes and twenty-nine outbuildings between Whale Creek and Trail Creek.  54,400 acres burned.  The costs of fighting the fire and protecting structures exceeded $50 million.

The Wedge Canyon Fire was only one of many large wildfires that have burned across the North Fork Valley.  Indeed, fire has been second only to glaciation in shaping the valley’s landscape.  But because of its cost, destructiveness and duration, Wedge Canyon served as a catalyst for change.  The North Fork Landowners’ Association appointed a diverse committee to explore what might be done to mitigate the effects of future wildfires.

Members of the Fire Mitigation Committee reached several understandings based on the North Fork’s fire history and the probability of future fires.  One was that it’s safer, cheaper and more effective to abate hazards before a fire starts.  Another was that although landowners have neither the ability nor the desire to eliminate fire from the valley, we can and should ameliorate the risks that it poses to our homes and the costs associated with defending them.

Since Wedge Canyon, the committee has obtained three grants from the DNRC to help North Fork landowners reduce hazardous fuels on their properties.  Response to the voluntary cost-sharing program has been remarkable.  The first two grants resulted in more than 100 home wildfire inspections with treatment prescriptions.  Fuels reduction work was completed under about 100 separate cost agreements.  At least 500 acres of private property were treated with grant money.  Probably even more acres were treated without any financial assistance.  Projects funded by the third grant are underway, several of which seek to protect multiple homes and to afford safe ingress and egress for landowners and firefighters.

Private fuel treatments are just part of the story, however.  Only about 14,500 acres–less than three per cent of the total acreage in the North Fork Valley–are in private hands.  Given this reality, the Fire Mitigation Committee decided that landowners needed to collaborate with federal and state agencies to reduce risk.

The agencies were receptive.  Our shared premise has been that public and private efforts should complement one another, with homes being the focal point.  Both the Forest Service and the DNRC have planned and implemented major fuels reduction projects in consultation with the committee and other landowners.  It’s been a model of public and private partnership, leveraging the effectiveness of one another’s efforts.

This month, the Fire Mitigation Committee will sponsor a workshop marking the tenth anniversary of the Wedge Canyon Fire.   We’ll look back to conditions at the time of the Wedge Fire, assess what’s changed in the intervening ten years, and consider the potential effects of the changes on future fires.   The event will serve as our annual Firewise Day.

Presenters include Wally Bennett, who was Type I Incident Commander during the Wedge Fire.  He’ll share his perspectives on the fire and on how subsequent fuels reduction projects might affect future fire behavior and suppression efforts.   In addition, committee member Allen Chrisman will examine North Fork fire history and climate change.  Michael Dardis will discuss fuels projects undertaken by the Forest Service since Wedge; Brian Manning will do the same on behalf of the DNRC.  Bill Swope will review what’s been accomplished with the help of grants and touch upon some ongoing concerns, among them ingress and egress.

The North Fork Firewise Day workshop will be held on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 from 9:30 a.m. to noon in Sondreson Community Hall, immediately preceding the Summer Interlocal Meeting.    We hope to see you then.

Molly Shepherd, Chair
North Fork Landowners’ Association’s
Fire Mitigation Committee

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife is a national U.S. Fish and Wildlife program that works with private landowners and other organizations to protect, enhance and restore important fish and wildlife habitats on private lands. Rox Rogers, a Private Lands Biologist from this organization, attended this summer’s Interlocal meeting on July 11th. She described how she is currently helping a couple of North Fork residents with weed management and how other projects can include riparian restoration and upland management on private lands.

Rox is encouraging North Forkers who would like more information to visit their website at http://www.fws.gov/partners/contactUs.html or contact her directly either using email (Rox_Rogers@fws.gov) or phone at (406) 758-6880.

Gardening with Native Plants Workshop was informative

On Monday of this week, Terry Divoky and Andrew Beltz gave a presentation on native plants at the Community Hall. This year, Terry and Andrew asked us for feedback about how our natives have done–what worked, what didn’t work, and answered our questions about natives in general as well as specific plants. They also gave us information on how to collect seed, when to collect, how to dry and store the seed, and when and how to plant. This was followed by a “tour” outside of the many different plants they brought, quite a few of which were in bloom. The plants ranged from mountain ash to currants to native grasses and wildflowers. Plants were available for sale and several folks had pre-ordered plants.

Terry and Andrew pointed out was that the native seed need the snow protection of the winter, so we should plant our seed in the fall, not in the spring. They also gave us a website, nativeplantnetwork.org, which has growing information for individual plant species.

This was a very educational and fun event and hopefully Terry and Andrew will return to talk to us again next year!

Square Dance at the Hall was fun

The first square dance of the summer season was a huge success. Bonny and Lynn Ogle opened the Hall on Saturday night and set everything up for a potluck supper. Following that, Debo Powers showed up to call the square dance after having climbed Stanton Peak. The Haverlandt’s brought some square dance friends from the Flathead Valley and they joined North Fork residents and visitors in an old fashioned square dance. Fun was had by all!

Hike to Cyclone a success

The hike to Cyclone Lookout is one of the most popular trails in the North Fork due to its proximity to Polebridge, short distance (5 miles roundtrip), and spectacular views at the top. Linda Pitman organized a hike to Cyclone on Tuesday. Three of the five North Forkers on the hike were thrilled to have the day off from the Northern Lights Saloon to enjoy the sunshine and mountains. The hike to Cyclone is a good conditioning hike for longer hikes in the Whitefish Range. After parking and walking down the gated road, the trail heads up through lush forest of larch and spruce climbing steadily with many switchbacks before reaching the summit where the lookout stands. There are beautiful views of Bowman Lake and the Glacier Park peaks, the Whitefish Range, Polebridge, and the North Fork valley. Since it is still early in the season, the lookout is not yet staffed. Because there was a breeze, the bugs did not bother us and the five of us had a delightful lunch in the shade of the Lookout punctuated by much laughter and story-telling.

NFLA Business Meeting announcements

Two announcements were made at the NFLA’s June business meeting that will be of interest to North Forkers. First, the Board has decided that it’s time to refinish the floor in the Community Hall and is soliciting donations for this project. Their goal is to raise $5000 by the August 3rd meeting so that the work can be scheduled for September while the weather is still warm. Those who wish to donate are asked to make checks payable to the NFLA and send them to P.O. Box 1603, Columbia Falls, MT 59912 or give them to Bonny Ogle, NFLA Treasurer.

Second, due of some major conflicts, the NFLA Auction has been moved from Saturday, July 20 to Friday, August 2 at 8PM. The Auction Committee is soliciting services and worthy auction items (in other words no junk, please!). Donated items can be dropped off at the Hall on Friday, August 2 from Noon to 5PM. All proceeds from the auction will go toward the floor re-finishing project.

2013 Hall Cleanup Day

Smiles, conversation, and productive work fueled the twenty-three landowners that showed up on Saturday, May 25 for Hall Cleanup Day.  Everyone was busy cleaning up the inside of the Hall and the grounds outside.

Gary Haverlandt worked on a picture display commemorating the Christmas celebration at the Hall.  Joe Novak washed windows.  Margaret Heaphy and Bill Walker cut kindling which was carried into the Hall by Margaret, Becky and Suzanne and stacked near the wood cook stove.  Karen McDonough, Carmen Edwards, Bonny Ogle, Naomi Hoiland, and Alice Caldwell orchestrated the work inside the Hall while outside, trees and bushes were limbed and a fire was started to burn the debris.

The fire was guarded by Larry Wilson and brush contributors were Mark Heaphy, Jan Cauldwell, Nat Johnson, and Tom Edwards.  Bob Graham cleaned the outhouse and Jackie Graham cleaned the generator shed.   Richard Hildner brought his tractor to the Hall on a trailer and spread topsoil around the new outhouse site.   Bob and other landowners used rakes and shovels to smooth the dirt while Lee Secrest, Gary McDonough, and others moved large rocks and placed them artistically to create a beautiful landscape.   (The topsoil had been previously donated by Rob Alm.)

Grass seed was spread over the new soil by Debo Powers.  We need a load of gravel to finish the landscape job.  Duke Hoiland showed off his logging skills by expertly felling seven dead trees behind the Hall without dinging a single structure.  Duke, along with Nat, cut the trees into firewood.  There were many hands to stack firewood and haul brush to the burn pile.

It was amazing to see how fast the work was accomplished with so many people!  Everyone enjoyed a wonderful lunch of hot dogs and chili provided by Karen McDonough.  Karen’s fabulous homemade chili was a big hit with everyone.  After lunch, the last few trees were felled, firewood stacked, and brush burned.  Tom Edwards commented that more work was done in a half day than in the last three years combined.  Everyone had fun too!
We want to thank everyone who participated for all of their hard work. And thank you Debo for both the report and the wonderful pictures. Let the summer begin!

2013HallCleanup

New Directors added to the North Fork Patrol

The North Fork Patrol recently voted to add Bill and Lois Walker to the Patrol as Directors. They will help Margaret and Mark Heaphy monitor the “southern end” of the North Fork.

We want to thank Bill and Lois for volunteering for this important work. Folks on the North Fork appreciate the time given by all the members of the North Fork Patrol who help keep the North Fork safe throughout the year.