Montana Outdoors

May 14, 2007

Blue Grouse and firewood

Filed under: Birds, Blue Grouse, Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures, Wood cutting — montucky @ 8:23 pm

For those of us who heat our homes with wood-burning stoves, doing so is one of those enjoyable things that we pay for up-front. Now that we have enjoyed the warmth, security and beauty of our winter fires, the cold part of the year is over and it is time to begin getting ready for next winter by cutting and hauling our new wood supply. The Forest Service sells permits to cut wood in the National Forests for $5 a cord: I use 4 to 5 cords a winter, heating a 2,000+ square foot house. My heating bills are therefore minimal, but I pay for it up front with a lot of hard work.

On my trips into the back country the last two weeks, it was apparent that this is already a very dry year. The reports of an early and long fire season may well be correct, at least here in Western Montana. The woods are very dry: I would compare their state now to what one would usually see in late June or early July. Even in areas (like the one I was in today) where there are still banks of snow remaining, the clear ground is dry. A lightning storm would surely be able to easily start a wild fire. Therefore, wood cutting must be done earlier than usual, and I started today.

I spent most of the day at an elevation of 6,000 feet cutting lodge pole pine that was killed by a fire in 2002. It has been drying ever since, and now it’s just perfect. It seems such a shame that most of those dead trees won’t ever be used. We are in such high demand for energy today, and yet there are thousands of acres of prime firewood that will not be harvested, and at the same time, folks all over will pay high prices for heating fuel or electricity to heat their homes. In the area where I cut mine, I would estimate there is enough dead and dry lodge pole pine to heat 10,000 homes for a winter, and that is a conservative estimate: it could easily be two or three times that number. Sadly enough, the upcoming fire season will most certainly create more fire-killed trees to replace these.

One of the pleasures associated with cutting firewood is where it is done. My work today was next to the borders of three of our remaining roadless areas, the Reservation Divide area, South Siegel area and North Siegel area. I had to stop short of where I had intended to go by 4-foot snow drifts over the road, but that’s OK: I’m glad it’s still there!

Grouse hunting is one of my passions, and this is one of the areas I hunt each fall. They are fairly plentiful, fun to hunt, and the Blue Grouse lives in the most beautiful parts of the wild country; the pine, fir and spruce forests above 6,000 feet. Today I was fortunate to see a pair of them and be able to get within camera range.

Here’s a male Blue Grouse in his prom suit trying to attract a mate. It is a rare sight. One of the endearing traits of these guys is that they always (and I mean ALWAYS) keep a tree or brush between themselves and a hunter. After about 15 minutes of playing peek-a-boo with this guy, trying to get him out of the heavy cover without flushing him, I was able to get a few photos, and they show him fairly well, even though there is still that little bit of brush between him and the camera.

Blue Grouse Cock
Blue Grouse Cock

Blue Grouse Cock

Blue Grouse Cock

And here’s the object of his affection. (If you are not familiar with Blue Grouse, they are about the size of a medium sized chicken, and are absolutely delicious! Grouse “nuggets” are one of my favorite foods.)

Blue Grouse hen

Blue Grouse hen

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