Burning and building

Two local companies take a new approach to forest sustainability


As the forest restoration crew of Watershed Consulting cut through the stillness of the woods in the Potomac Valley with their chainsaws, the morning light bounced off thousands of snowflakes displaced from a freshly fallen tree. Wyatt Trull squinted to keep the snow out of his eyes as he gathered the wood to stack into burn piles.

Wyatt Trull gathers chunks of trees cut by other crew members to put into burn piles — one of the most common techniques of forest fire prevention. Trull decided to pursue forestry after completing a wilderness and civilizations minor. “I’m out here to learn a real professional skill. I want to be really good at something,” he said.

“The whole point is fuel mitigation — burn now so it doesn’t in the summer,” Trull explained.

Trull, a junior at the University of Montana, is used to having smoke in his eyes, so snow provides a welcome change. After completing a wilderness and civilizations minor and spending a summer working as a wildland firefighter in Western Montana, he decided to study forestry. He wanted to keep working in the woods. Last spring, Trull interned at Bad Goat Forest Products wood shop near the Scott Street bridge in Missoula and continues to work with its sister company Watershed Consulting.

Mark Vander Meer compares two different types of wood that are processed in the Bad Goat Forest Products wood shop. Bad Goat brought this wood from Vander Meer’s other company, Watershed Consulting.

Since Mark Vander Meer founded Watershed Consulting in 1994 and Bad Goat Forest Products in 2010, he has made it a priority to practice the most efficient forestry possible. Watershed Consulting, also based in Missoula, specializes in forest restoration on both public and private land in Western Montana. Bad Goat creates custom wood pieces for construction and furniture leftover from these projects. The relationship between the two companies benefits both businesses and the environment by turning the by-products of forest restoration into everything from 2x4s to dining room tables.

“We don’t sell things you can find at Lowes or Home Depot. No, it has to be special.” — Mark Vander Meer

Vander Meer’s companies also provides an opportunity for UM forestry students, like Trull, to get experience. Two interns are hired each semester and many others work on the restoration crews. Students on restoration crews take on jobs from wildlife habitat restoration to controlled burn forest fire prevention. The companies provide students with experience in the field, teaching how to make forestry more sustainable.

“One of our mandates in both companies is to push forestry into the future, and of course the future is young foresters,” Vander Meer said.

The majority of the wood that Bad Goat buys from Watershed is Bull Pine — a variety of Ponderosa that is common in the western United States. Even though Vander Meer owns both companies, a legal transaction is required to sell wood from one to the other.

“It’s unstable and just one of the worst woods,” Vander Meer said.

The challenge lies in taking wood that is generally considered useless and selling it for profit. Bad Goat goes beyond selling slabs of wood to be made into bar tops or benches, and experiments with new ways to merge pieces of wood so it can be used for construction. This construction puts the wood together without using screws or nails, but by arranging the joints so they support the weight of the entire structure evenly.

Left: The Bad Goat wood shop displays slabs of different trees felled from Western Montana. The slabs are often bought for use as custom furniture such as bar tops, benches and dining room tables. Right: Lead Forester Josiah Denham watches as snow falls off of a young Ponderosa pine he cut down. “What we’re doing here is a grant through the Blackfoot Challenge. They pay 50 percent and the owner of the land pays 50 percent,” Denham said. The Blackfoot Challenge is an organization of landowners around the Blackfoot River who promote conservation and resource sharing in the area.

Trull plans to continue studying forestry at the University of Helsinki in Finland next semester. He wants to conduct research in forest ecology, but field work is what lead him to realize his goal.

“I love the labor,” Trull said.

Aaron Howard (left) and Wyatt Trull carry their equipment to a job site at a private residence in the Potomac Valley. Howard has more than 15 years of forestry experience since studying at the Missoula College of Technology. He’s spent six of those years working at Bad Goat. Founder Mark Vander Meer said his employees are “the ones with the real talent.”
Left: Pete Meuhmer (back) and his girlfriend, Heather Graham, adjust the height of the conjoined chainsaw, which is made up of two saws that rotate a single chain. The extended length of the saw makes cutting slabs from large logs possible. Meuhmer and Graham moved to Montana from the Detroit area after working various forestry related jobs around the country. Right: Meuhmer and Graham cut slabs from a tree at the lumber mill near the Scott Street Bridge Bad Goat processes the leftover, unwanted wood that Watershed doesn’t sell to outside companies. “It does a really good job of being efficient, maximizing what you can utilize and minimizing waste,” Meuhmer said about the relationship between Watershed and Bad Goat.

Story and photos by Evan Frost
Web design by Abbey Dufoe
For more, visit
montanakaimin.com