Friday, August 17, 2012

Harvesting Larch Cones, with a bang!

I'll be the first to admit my blogging lately has been lacking. In the summer we try and cram as much as possible into every day and finally fall exhausted into bed late every night. I will though, try and get back into it, since I do enjoy sharing with you and hearing your feedback on our experiences and posts. Soon, I'll get back to news about the bees, the garden crops, and I'll tell you all about our adventure of introducing the young hens into the big flock, but tonight I wanted to tell you about one day harvesting larch cones with rifles!

Western Larch (Larrix occidentalis) is one of our native trees here in Western MT and is one of my favorite all around trees for several reasons. Chiefly, it is beautiful. With a growth form similar to conifers (pines, firs and such) the larch is special because it shows off every fall by turning from green to yellow and finally golden before loosing it's needles for the winter. Secondly, the larch is a wonderful timber tree and produces tight grained, high quality wood that has been sought after by builders for generations. It is an important wildlife tree, and finally the dead dry larch is some of the best firewood available in the Rocky Mountain region.   
One aspect of Whitney's job with the Forest Service, is reforestation, which includes collecting cones for seed, that will be sown and grown at the nursery in Coeur 'de Alene, ID. The seeds from Whit's trees wind up getting planted all over the region reforesting areas that were burned, logged or deforested by beetles. In most cases cone collection is done by tree climbers who ascend the tree via rope. But the larch is different. Since the branches are too brittle to support a person's weight, the tree mush be felled to access the cones. But you have to be sure the cones are good before you fell the tree. So, how do you do that when the cones are 70 - 100' up? With firepower!

Whit takes aim at a larch branch with her 6.5x55 Swede
One Saturday this summer, Whit needed to go out and check the cone crop in a stand of larch to see if there were enough seeds in the cones to make cone collection viable. Since it was a Saturday and I wasn't busy, I went along for the fun.  Often the job of shooting down branches is left to the Law Enforcement Ranger, but in this case we got the okay to do it ourselves.

She got this beauty with two shots!
We headed up the mountain and arrived at the stand just as the afternoon winds kicked up (I had forgotten there was a Red-Flag warning for high winds that day!). Undaunted, Whit got out her trusty Swedish Mauser and with just 2 shots dropped a branch loaded with cones!
On the next branch, she nearly dropped it with 2 shots again, but let me hit it a few times since I was starting to feel left out. ;-)

cutting the cones to look for seeds.
Once we had a good sample of cones to work with, Whit cut them open to inspect the seeds. In this case the seeds were too few and of too poor quality to warrant dropping any trees. Larch like all fruit bearing trees have good years and lean years, it just turns out this was a lean year for the trees in that stand. So in the end, no trees were dropped to find out the seeds were poor, and we had a heck of a good time getting the job done!
Until next time, thanks for reading.


April... I [Heart] My Life said...

Love it! Great story,and awesome pictures!

Anne @ Cup of Caffeine said...

Very interesting and informative! I've missed you two in blog/facebook world. It would be even better if we could see each other again in person though :)

Anonymous said...

Good shooting, Whitney. Make the office put that into your file as an official designation as "Top Shot". Then you can make the govt start buying ammo for your rifle.