MISSOULA, Mont. - Organizers for Forestry Days, held annually at Fort Missoula, say the event offers a rare bright spot for Montana's timber industry. This year it's the last stop on a national circuit where the world's best professional athletes in logger sports compete.
College students kicked off the event Friday with teams from across the Northwest.
The University of Montana, Montana State University and Flathead Valley Community College all had athletes compete.
"All these events originated from old-time logging practices, from cross-cut saws, climbing poles," said Alex Williams, a Forestry Days announcer.
Williams says it's a way to keep the state's rich logging tradition alive.
"I think the older generations definitely appreciated the preservation of the tradition, seeing the old-time practices continue," said Williams. "While they're not necessarily used in the field as much as they used to be, the tradition stays alive through events like this."
Business developers say the wood products industry is still an important part of Montana's economy, even though new data shows the industry in freefall since its peak in the '90s.
According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Development at the University of Montana, lumber production peaked in the late '80s at more than 1.5 billion board feet a year. A board foot is a measurement used in the lumber industry.
Sales value numbers for timber mirror that decline, peaking at $2 billion a year in the mid-90s, and down to a quarter of that by 2010, at $500 million.
Encouraging data has been collected in the last few years that shows slight growth in production and sales since 2010. We're told that follows an uptick in U.S. home starts.
"Most of our lumber goes to housing, so when the housing drops, most of the mills in Montana feel the effect," said Scott Kuehn, a chairman for the Society of American Foresters. "We're starting to see the increase right now. Now we're starting to see mills going to two shifts, three shifts. It's on the uptick."
On Saturday, the professional lumber sports athletes take over at Fort Missoula.
Forestry Days starts at Saturday 9 a.m., and ends at 4 p.m.