Tradition Meets Technology

FVCC Natural Resources students learn traditional backcountry and advanced technology skills in Montana’s one-of-a-kind program.

Students working toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Natural Resources Conservation & Management at Flathead Valley Community College have the opportunity to learn traditional skills with men and women who have decades of combined experience working in Montana’s backcountry.

To better prepare students for local employers’ needs and expectations, FVCC recently added three new hands-on classes to the Natural Resources Conservation & Management curriculum. The new classes include Forestry 260 – Chainsaw & Crosscut Saw Operations & Maintenance, Forestry 262 – Stock Packing Skills, and Emergency Care Provider 119 – Wilderness First Aid.

Forestry (FORS) 260 Chainsaw & Crosscut Operations & Maintenance

Paul Uken worked as a timber faller from 1972 to 1986 in the steep Thompson River drainage, where he became adept at falling large diameter trees. For the past 30-plus years, Uken has worked diligently to teach people how to safely use chain saws, which includes knowing how to keep the machine and its chain in good working condition. He works with FVCC students to build their technical knowledge and skills when using and maintaining this powerful tool.

Fred Flint has been called the region’s foremost expert on crosscut saw maintenance. After retiring from a career with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Flint took it upon himself to learn the craft of crosscut saw maintenance through an intensive course at the Ninemile Wildland Training Center. He now spends his winters sharpening and repairing vintage crosscut saws for customers in his private shop. As part of FORS 260, Flint teaches the students the basics of this almost-lost art. They then take their freshly sharpened tools to the field, where they swap turns learning how to efficiently work the one and two-person saws back and forth through logs.

Forestry (FORS) 262 Stock Packing Skills

Abbie Hutton, a USFS stock packer for the Spotted Bear Ranger District, has been working with horses since she was a kid. She holds a degree in forestry and has worked on ranches and outfitter crews as a wrangler, stock packer and crew leader. As part of FORS 262, Hutton works with the FVCC students at a USFS corral where they learn about animal behavior and herd dynamics, care and feeding of stock, riding, tack, saddling, types of pack saddles, packing resources, pack regulations and sustainable stock practices.

Emergency Care Provider (ECP) 119 Wilderness First Aid

Licensed paramedic Douglas Petch is FVCC’s Emergency Management Clinical Coordinator and teaches emergency medicine courses, including the Wilderness First Aid course. Petch runs the students through basic emergency medical and trauma scenarios typically encountered in remote, austere or wilderness environments. The students practice splinting, bleeding control, wound management and CPR, as well as critical decision making skills.

FVCC’s Natural Resources Conservation & Management program is unique. FVCC is the only college in Montana to offer Stock Packing Skills and Chainsaw & Crosscut Saw Operations & Maintenance.

“In addition to these traditional backcountry skills, our students are also trained in advanced technology, including GPS mapping and working with drones,” said FVCC Associate Professor of Natural Resources Christina Relyea. “This well rounded program gives FVCC graduates an edge in the employment market. I routinely receive calls from state and federal agencies, as well as private companies, looking for students to fill job openings.”

FVCC’s Natural Resources Conservation & Management program prepares students to work as technicians collecting, analyzing and presenting environmental information in the fields of forestry, range, water, soils, and wildlife and recreation management. Graduates of the program are also prepared to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue a bachelor’s degree. For more information, visit