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1539 Eleventh Ave. Helena, MT 59601
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Frank "Shorty" Nelson


Forestry Pioneer

Shorty NelsonShorty was born on June 21, 1920 in Helena, MT, raised and educated there graduating from Helena High School in 1938.

He attended the University of Montana School of Forestry graduating in 1943, with a degree in Logging Engineering. This was followed by serving in the US Army as a weapons instructor at Ft. Benning, GA until 1945.

During his college years he was employed by the U.S Forest Service and again after his military discharge Shorty worked on the clearing of the Hungry Horse Dam Reservoir, as a forest lookout and fire guard on the Fisher River/Wolf Creek drainages of the Kootenai National Forest and a field forester for the Ribes/White Blister Rust eradication program in Keeler/Callahan/Yaak drainages on the Kootenai National Forest Troy Ranger District. In 1947, Shorty began his forestry and engineering career for J Neils Lumber Company at Libby, as a Woods Scaler, and Road and Logging Engineer. He worked at the Rexford, Warland, and Dunn Creek logging camps in the Kootenai River drainage for JNeils. Shorty's knack for forest road engineering, layout and development was uncanny.  He could look at a drainage, the topography and his access destination, and find a way to get there. Co-workers were always amazed at his natural ability and perseverance as to forest road engineering and road construction. It was amazing. He taught many a forest engineer about their profession.

Shorty was a prime leader in designing and locating the truck roads on the ground to haul the Engelmann Spruce bark beetle salvage harvest, in the early 1950's, on the Kootenai, Flathead, Kaniksu National Forests, as well as the State and industrial timberlands in northwest Montana and North Idaho. This massive Spruce bark beetle epidemic was created by large areas of high elevation spruce, which were blown down in the early 1950's, and covered thousands of timberland acres. These large Spruce blow down areas throughout the region promoted epidemic bark beetle populations. The bark beetle attacks exploded both in the blow down and the standing green Spruce timber stands. Large geographic areas and large stream drainages were affected throughout northwest Montana and north Idaho.

Shorty worked on JNeil's fee timberlands; in the North Fork of the Flathead, the Fisher River/Wolf Creek drainages, and many Troy area drainages west of Libby. He worked cooperatively, with the USFS and State DNRC foresters, establishing network road systems in the north-end of the Kootenai River drainage, in Eureka/Rexford areas of Big Creek, Boulder Creek, Dodge/Sullivan Divide, the WigWam, Pinkham and Skid Creeks where large areas were affected by the Spruce blow down and subsequent Spruce bark beetle infestations. In addition, Shorty worked in the Cabinet Mountain's east face drainages of; Deep, Libby, Bear, Poorman and Cable Creek drainages, all the Yaak River drainages, and the Keeler/Benning/Callahan Creek drainages at Troy. He helped develop a quick, expedient and effective designed road layout plan for a salvage harvesting plan, which entailed the economic recovery of these massive salvage timber volumes of Engelmann Spruce and White pine sawlogs that was the paramount focus of timberland owners and the sawmills, in northwest Montana, during this early 1950's time period. Shorty use to comment about his road location work during this time period, with the following comment; "My feet never touched the ground for a whole year, in the Yaak and Keeler/Callahan Creek drainages, as every step he took was on a blow down Spruce tree or log. In many cases, it was a long fall to the ground below."

Lumber and housing demand was very high in the 1950's since the end of World War II. In addition, this was an opportunity to get permanent haul road systems constructed and established into many non-roaded timberland acres of western Montana, and have the initial road development costs paid for by the salvaged Spruce and other sawlogs species harvested for lumber.

The J Neils Lumber Company operations, at Libby, had established a large and viable Spruce board market and expanded the mill manufacturing capacity to consume this large volume of Spruce sawlogs for a demanding US consumer population. They had a short time line to complete these large salvage operations on multiple timberland ownerships in northwestern Montana. The planned salvage operational objectives were met; permanent road systems were established, salvage harvesting completed, jobs provided, timber values preserved, mature high risk Spruce stands identified for management, fire fuel and risk reduced, finished wood products furnished to US consumers, for housing and naval ship construction. In addition, the initial investments in roads systems, forest management and fire protection for Montana's valuable timberlands and their future sustainability began. Shorty, and other professional foresters, landowners, and stakeholders played a huge role in creating this successful story of forestry in western Montana. It was a massive and cooperative endeavor, with a very successful outcome for Montana timberlands then, and was the beginning of forest management of our Montana timberlands, which provides a multitude of valuable and sustainable resource assets we enjoy and try to protect today. Shorty always took great pride in being part of that mission, and being a part of a team of professional foresters and land managers that accomplished a tremendous resource salvage effort. Shorty helped emphasize the need for investment in Montana forests, forest roads, forest infrastructure and good forest management. He played and key part in providing that permanent road access for the future, as a key component of sustainable forest management and forest protection. Road access helps to enhance and maintain healthy ecosystems and provide for sustainable forest outputs into the future. We still use these roads today for our forest resource management and resource protection of all our Montana forests.

Shorty continued to work for the J Neils and their successors companies; St. Regis Paper Company and Champion International at Libby. Shorty retired after 37 years of continuous service with J Neils and the various successor companies named above, and all on the same geographic landscape of federal, state or industrial timberlands in the Libby/Troy, Eureka/Rexford, Yaak and extreme north Idaho. Shorty was an icon in Forest Engineering and Montana forestry.

In 1988, Shorty was named Fellow in the Society of American Foresters and was recognized as a fifty (50) year member of the SAF. That same year, he was named Montana Forester of the Year, by the Montana SAF, for his many years of dedication to the profession of forestry and SAF. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana in 1991. Shorty was an honorary member of the UofM Forestry School's Druid Society.

As a civic minded person, Shorty served as a Libby city councilman for 18 years. He was involved in the formation of the David Thompson Search and Rescue. He helped build the Cabinet View Golf Course and the Turner Mountain Ski Area at Libby. He coached Little League Baseball. He was a Libby Lions Club member, for 67 years, and a past club president. He was a member of the Libby Elks Club and Libby Rod and Gun Club. He was the designer of the Libby community Flower Creek Cross Country Ski Course. Later years saw Shorty active in the Libby Senior Citizen Center, and named Senior Citizen of the Year in 1993.

Shorty, or "Mr. 5'19" was known for his long legs that supported his tall 6 foot 7 inch frame, his twinkling blue eyes and his big smile, his love for hunting ducks and geese with his old trusty "Long Tom" - 52 inch Winchester 97 12 gauge pump shotgun, and his big tall Schwinn bicycle that he rode around Libby for so many years. You were never a stranger when Shorty was around.

Shorty died at 86 years of age, in September 2006.  He is survived by his wife Jenny and four children. We think Shorty is still shooting ducks and hanging center line ribbons in heaven. Shorty was a big man, with a big heart to match, who left quite a legacy in Montana forestry. Shorty was a true Montana Forestry Pioneer.

 

 

 

 

 

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