Forest crews use hand tools to restore Anaconda-Pintler trails damaged by fire

The Meyers fire didn’t get a lot of press this summer, but it won’t go unnoticed among fans of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.

As it blackened about 62,000 acres of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest near Philipsburg, Montana, it made some particularly vigorous runs through the Pintler Ranger District. Even before the flames died, U.S. Forest Service backcountry workers started inventorying the damage to their trails and campsites.

Their to-do list showed 40 miles of trail covered with downfall, burned bridges and erosion trouble. The Wisdom/Wise River Ranger District has another 10 miles that is burn-damaged. And the Bitterroot side has 20 miles of work — all in a wilderness area that has only 250 miles of trail across all three ranger districts of west-central Montana.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits use of mechanized equipment in wilderness areas, so any repair work by law must be done with traditional, hand-powered methods. That meant crosscut saws, axes and mules.

A 20-person crew set out on the last week of September, just when the weather went from fire season to rain and snow.

“We put in a whole summer’s worth of work in four weeks,” the crew lead said. “They took out 450 burned snags felled with crosscuts or axes. There were 1,250 downed trees cut out of the trails. That puts us ahead for next year, but we still have at least as many that we didn’t get to.”

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