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Stock Farm Club thins trees with helicopter

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Folks east of Hamilton may have noticed the sight and sound of a helicopter whirring through the skies the past couple days.

R&R Helicopters is thinning trees on the private Stock Farm Club, a private golf course.

NBC Montana spent Thursday at the golf course where every 90 seconds or so R&R's UH-1 Super B picked up a cut tree and swung it across the sky to deposit in a spot where it will be chipped.

Ryan Conner was sawing a large cottonwood tree as the work progressed. But he said most of the trees that were thinned at the course were small diameter ponderosa pine trees that had been planted about 20 years ago.

"We're cleaning up some trees around the fairways and greens," he said.

Golf course superintendent Ryan Knapp drove a cart along the winding pathway past the championship course.

The course is set on 350 acres in the shadow of the Sapphire Mountains.

"The golf course is removing these trees to improve turf health," said Knapp, "and to improve the playability of the golf course and to improve the views of the valley."

Conner's family were pioneers in the Bitterroot's historic timber industry.

His helicopter logging operation is certainly a lot different from the way his ancestors worked in the 1880's.

Today most of his aerial timber harvesting work is done in other western states.

The Stock Farm project will only last a few days. But Conner is happy to be working close to home.

Thinning trees at the course is a delicate undertaking.

He said in this beautiful landscape the helicopter offers "low impact" logging.

"There's really no easy way to get these trees off these courses without doing a lot of damage," said Conner. "The idea behind the helicopter is to get the trees off without doing any damage to the fairways or greens."

He said most of the timber is marginal. Most of it will be chipped and sent to Darby School for its biomass heating system.

Darby School superintendent Loyd Rennaker said the school will pay to truck the product but the Conner family and the Stock Farm are donating all the wood.

Rennaker is thankful for that.

In a year we'll burn a thousand tons," he said. "So if we get 500 ton off the Stock Farm project we will have heated our school for half a year. That's a blessing for our school."

By late afternoon the helicopter pilot had finished hauling the trees at the club.

Ryan Conner kept a close watch on the skies for bad weather. From his vantage point he could see everything in panoramic view. He knew there was no time to waste.

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