SEELEY LAKE – It’s too easy to make a pun about the retirement of a local legend with a name like Tim Love.
But it’s not hard at all to find testimony to the amount of care and affection this Seeley Lake district ranger shared with his community over the past 20 years. Love leaves his post on Nov. 7, just a few weeks shy of a 40-year career in the U.S. Forest Service.
“Tim has a commitment to the Seeley Lake area,” said Anne Dahl, former director of the Swan Ecosystem Center in Condon, which she helped start the same year Love became district ranger. “He knew the people well, understood the issues and walked the land. There’s a tendency for the Forest Service to move district rangers around. They often don’t get to know the place they’re working before they moved someplace else. It’s going to be difficult to replace him.”
Over the years, Love helped the region weather the traumatic fire seasons of 2000 and 2007, the near collapse and recovery of Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co., and the national adoption of a collaborative forest management style largely pioneered over mugs of coffee in Seeley Lake meeting rooms.
On a visit to Gus, the nation’s biggest western larch tree which stands across the lake from his office, Love pointed out an on-the-ground example of how things have changed over the years. The 1,000-year-old tree stands taller than the Statue of Liberty in an airy grove of monster trunks. Most show recent burn scars at their bases.
Love oversaw the thinning and burning of the Girard Grove in 2003, at a time when both local people and the Forest Service were resistant to the idea of logging close to a community. But the forest fires of 2000 forced a rethinking of fire strategy nationwide. Occasional planned fire can be good for a forest, and help defend against unplanned fires later.
“You don’t fireproof stands,” Love explained while walking through the grove. “You just create conditions where when you have fire, you can be more effective. When the Jocko fire (of 2007) came down here, this was the last line of defense for the town.”
Blackfoot Challenge director Gary Burnett said Love had a talent for realizing “the box is probably bigger than you think it is.”
“You have to respect the box – the certain mandates you have from your agency,” Burnett said. “But Tim was always willing to make sure community values are included. Nobody should have to compromise their principles to cooperate, but you can find the places where those values overlap. He was always looking for where’s the overlap between that mandate and the community values.”
The results include things like stewardship contracting, which got some early test runs in the Seeley-Swan-Blackfoot territory Love oversaw. The process works sort of like barter, where the value of a logging sale is paid with work improving wildlife habitat or removing old roads.
One of the first demonstrations was the Clearwater Stewardship Project, which Love co-managed in 2000. It produced almost $1 million worth of lumber for Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. and two years of forest restoration projects for the Forest Service, including 18 modern vault toilets at campgrounds, obliteration of 50 miles of old roads, and numerous bridge and culvert repairs.
“I remember we were in the conference room and a lot of people were skeptical,” Love recalled of the Clearwater project’s planning stages. “We spent a lot of time in the forest looking at treatments. That helped people understand who were really critical about anything we do.”
For Rick Graetz, who co-directs the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent Initiative, Love has been a regular source of knowledge both in and outside the classroom.
“Some people are just charismatic, and he’s one of them,” Graetz said. “When I was looking for a special place to take my students, he didn’t hesitate – he knew exactly where to go. I know people on all sides of the issues, and I’ve never heard a bad word about the guy.”