By Brian Baxter
Kootenai National Forest has hired Mr. Chad Benson originally from Plains, Montana to fill the Forest Supervisor role here in Libby. Mr. Benson’s credentials are impressive. In 1998, Benson received a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Science from Montana Tech in Butte. From that point in time to 2001 Mr. Benson worked as a project engineer in Salt Lake City, Utah, assisting with the planning and design of infrastructure for the 2002 Olympics. After completing that task, he felt the call of Big Sky Country once more and he returned to Trout Creek Ranger Station in the Cabinet District of the KNF and worked in the engineering department.
From this point in time, Benson embarked on a working tour of the state, moving to Missoula first to become part of the engineering team on the Lolo NF; then in 2006 accepting a position as the District Ranger at the Powell station on the Clearwater NF; in 2009, shifting to the Nine Mile Ranger station on the Lolo; headed to the Region 1 Custer / Gallatin NF in 2014; and then swung back to us here on the Kootenai to work as a temporary acting Ranger – Forest Supervisor in 2018.
In author John Fraley’s most recent book, Rangers, Trappers, and Trailblazers, he recounts the true adventures of people who earned their living among the mountains and along the cold, clear rivers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Fraley tells of Glacier Park Ranger Clyde Fanley and his young family using a cable bucket to reach their isolated cabin across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, and the life and times of Henry Thol, referred to often as the ranger’s ranger, who snowshoed hundreds of miles through deep snows in minus 40 degree cold to patrol the wilderness.
For the 100th Anniversary of the Kootenai National Forest in August of 2006, the forest put together a publication entitled, The Future of Our Past. This document was put together by Rebecca Timmons, KNF Archaeologist, other Forest Service employees, and local historians. This publication refers to Tree Lookouts, around the forest. Constructing a tree lookout involved finding a healthy tree in the right location on a high point of a mountain. The branches were cut off and metal foot pegs were driven in and up the tree so one could climb it like a ladder. The top of the tree was cut off for an alidade placement. An alidade is a fire finding tool composed of a large metal compass like rotating protractor, a scale for distance, and map references, set on a base plate. Once a 6 x 6 foot platform was constructed, with a railing at waist height the alidade was mounted on a small wooden table.
Early lookouts that manned this tree would stay in a tent nearby. This reporter has visited one on McMillan Mountain, another on Flower Point, and while manning a kit built Fire Tower on Calx Mountain during the 2018 fire season, found remnants of another old tree lookout on that ridge. The Future of Our Past goes on to state that these tree lookouts were built around the early 1920’s, but early KNF Rangers Fred Herrig, Joe Eastland, and Charly Myers were hired between 1900 and 1906.
It further states that a ranger in those days had to be able to ride, shoot, pack a mule, cruise and cut timber, survey and map, enforce land laws, prepare a written report, construct buildings, clear trails, fight fires, maintain records, issue permits and deal with people. He had to be able to supply most of his own equipment, including horses, and be willing to work for $75 dollars a month.
Our new Forest Supervisor on the Kootenai Chad Benson worked his way through college and his early career in timber stand improvement, occasionally having to fell diseased trees in a given cut unit; cruised timber measuring heights, diameters, boring for age and defecting trees; performed sivicultural timber stand exams in remote locations with notations on habitat, tree, shrub, forb, grass, sedge, and fungi species, and stand designs; recreation duties dealing with people; laying out and clearing rough terrain trails; fighting fire in a variety of duties; plus survey, map, and engineer projects in both remote and rugged terrain.
Chad’s wife Aubree is a Fisheries Biologist, and also works on Grant Programs for the U.S. Forest Service. The couple have two sons, Lane age eight, and Brett, age six. The boys are into the sports of soccer, baseball, skiing, and basketball. The family have four quarter horses, and two dogs. Stella, is the Chocolate Lab, and Max is a Gold Doodle, which is a cross between a Golden Retriever, and a Poodle. Chad uses horses for back country hunting, and he and his wife take the horses out pleasure riding. Occasionally he’ll get roped into cattle drives with family and friends in Plains. Chad and Aubree love fly fishing, and recently took a 23 day trip to fish in Patagonia. Chad is an elk hunter, and will bow hunt if he has time to practice, and also rifle hunts. When rifle hunting, he will take horses in and pack out his elk. The couple backpacks, and are raising the boys to take family trips into the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness.
This reporter commented to Chad that it must feel very comfortable to be working so close to where he’s from, and asked him to describe how that feels to him. Chad Benson replied, “Being able to manage public lands close to where my roots are is more than just managing and working for the Forest Service. Yes, I have a deep responsibility that comes with that, but growing up around here, playing baseball in the summers in Libby, traveling around all the adjacent communities and getting to know people, instills a deeper connection. I care about the prosperity of the communities. I want to see us thrive and if I can be part of that success, maintain good relationships along the way, and be good stewards of the land, then we’ve done our job. It won’t always be easy, but if strong foundational relationships are built, you can get through a lot as a community.”