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Nov 24, 2021

Ottman Forestry and the Sterling Ranch

Tags: Forestry

John Ottman, Founder of Ottman Forestry Consultants, has worked in the woods for nearly 40 years - learning, educating, protecting, and advocating for our forests. Ottman graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Resource Management in 1979 and hit the ground running shortly after. His fifteen years of leather boots on the mountain with Champion International and another five years with White Pine Slash led him to progress into his own world at Ottman Forestry Consultant, which has been in operation for approximately 26 years.

Ottman has frequently been praised for his “light on the land” harvesting due to his constant drive to do right by our forests and maintain healthy habitat for all wildlife. These traits are what landed him the 2006 Montana State Field Forester of the Year Award and the 2006 District IV Society of American Foresters (SAF) Presidential Field Forester Award. His stewardship demonstrates a love of the land that can only be formed in someone who has spent their entire life working in the woods.

The Sterling Ranch Project

A significant amount of Ottman’s time spent as a forester has been dedicated to managing the approximately 22,000 acres of forest lands that comprise the Sterling Ranch. Ottman began managing this land just a few short years after founding Ottman Forestry. Taking in the landowners’ goals, Ottman created a forest management plan to provide hunting and fishing access, support the expanded cattle grazing distribution, and foster healthy habitat for wildlife. In his 26 years of managing the Sterling Ranch on behalf of the landowner, he estimates that 25,000 log truck loads of sawlogs and 15,000 tons of pulpwood have been produced. Ottman’s work has completely altered the state of the ranch, and he does it all with just his spray paint canister and his dog.

For Ottman, time spent on the Sterling Ranch consists of hours of walking, tree marking, and clean-up. It is a slow process that requires patience and dedication. Creating healthy forests, after all, takes years of hard work and continuous maintenance. No matter how much time is spent on a given stand, the forester's job is never done. Yet, despite these challenges, one would find it hard to miss the love John Ottman has for his work.

“This is my world,” Ottman jokes, looking out over the nearly 37,000 acres of both forest and grassland that make up the Sterling Ranch. And, just as you’d expect from someone who refers to the forest as “his world,” Ottman has dedicated much of his life to learning the best way to preserve and maintain forested lands. According to Ottman, the best way to do this is to get out on the ground of the forest.

Managing the Land

“If you manage the timber correctly, it is huge,” Says Ottman. “It will grow, and it will respond. It all comes down to being on the ground. It’s the tree you’re leaving; it’s not the tree you’re cutting.” From choosing the optimal silviculture prescription, tree-marking, reseeding, deciding on removal techniques, and considering environmental obstacles, being out on the ground is a critical part of active forest management and is exactly what makes Ottman an excellent forester.

“I always have guys asking when they’ll be on the next job and the next job, always looking forward to where they’re going next,” says Ottman. “And I have to remind them that I’m going to be on this job for a long time after everyone else has left, cleaning up, reseeding, removing all the lame trees so that it will look nice and regenerate.” For Ottman, there is always more work to be done as these forests require treatment every 15-20 years to remain in optimal condition.

A 26-Year Evolution

This time spent working on the ranch and re-evaluating the land after each treatment has been critical to his evolution and development as a forester. Because of these past 26 years on Sterling Ranch, Ottman has had the unique opportunity to observe the effects of each decision and adapt techniques to fit the needs of the land and the landowner. Additionally, he is able to see first-hand how responsible forest management helps foster a mosaic of healthy forests, wildlife, and plants and how these stands become more resilient to natural disasters such as catastrophic wildfires.

Looking out over Sterling Ranch, it is easy to see the benefits of managing these forests. From the copious amounts of wildlife to the health and resilience of these stands and the access that has been provided for both recreators and agriculture, it is easy to see how active forest management benefits the forest. Ottman’s world is truly a wonder to take in, and his work as a private forester not only impacts the landowner but our entire community.

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