by Justin Doble
When I caught up with Tighe Williamson of Williamson Forest Management, he was working on a piece of private ground on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley.
Tighe’s sawing partner, Lily Bear, greeted me as I opened the door of the pickup. She had a large stick in her mouth and eagerly laid it at my feet. I threw the stick as far as I could and, in
an instant, she was gone, blasting her way through the brush and limbs in her Hi Viz orange vest. Lily Bear is a German Shepard with logging in her veins. She almost always goes to work with Tighe. Whether it is a 2-hour drive to work in the early morning hours, or a short trip down the road from the house, you can find Lily Bear by Tighe’s side. Eager to get to the woods.
Tighe Williamson was born in Grangeville, Idaho in 1979. His grandpa was part owner of Dye Machine Supply in Grangeville, building line machine parts and booms to support the growing timber industry. Tighe’s dad was a smoke jumper with the United States Forest Service(USFS) in Grangeville, he transferred to the Missoula jumper base, taking the family with him. Tighe grew up in Lolo, working odd jobs through high school; bucking hay bales, and cutting and delivering firewood with his first McCulloch Pro Mac 55. Graduating from Victor High School in the spring of ‘97, Tighe took a job with Gary Gran hooking chokers and cutting timber for Kreis Enterprises in the Lochsa. At the time, Kreis had three line machines. This gave Tighe plenty of opportunity to hone his skills in falling big timber in northeast Idaho.
In the 2000s Tighe took a job with the USFS, working summers on an engine crew for the West Fork Ranger District. Later getting accepted to the Smokejumper program in Missoula he would turn it down to continue to log big timber in Idaho. After the long fire seasons Tighe was always eager to get back to logging. Each fall, he would return to work for Kreis Enterprises, cutting
timber through the winters.
After joining the USFS’s Challis Repel Crew out of Idaho in 2003, Tighe met his future wife, Joy, on the crew in 2004. Joy was a hard-working, adventure seeker from the Midwest and after Tighe saw her pack nearly her entire body weight worth of gear for 11 miles out of the Frank Church Wilderness, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Joy visited Tighe in the Bitterroot several times in the fall of 2004, and by December they were married.
The next year drier weather shut a lot of the woods down to logging, and Tighe took a job with White River Cutting, falling timber on various helicopter jobs in Washington. This kicked off the next few years of chasing helicopters across the landscape of Montana and the Northwest. During this time, Tighe and Joy moved to Corvallis and welcomed a baby girl into the Williamson family. Baylee was born in March of 2007. Exactly one week before Tighe was seriously injured on a helicopter job near St. Regis. Tighe had again applied to be a Smokejumper and follow in his dad’s footsteps, but when he showed up to the jump
base with a broken nose, all 12 bones broken in his sinus cavity, an eye socket broken in 3 places, torn rotator cuff, and countless stitches in his face, he was turned away and asked to come back next year. He did.
The next couple of summers Tighe continued the family legacy of jumping on fires in AK, WA, OR, CA, TN, AZ, NM, and MT. Traveling the country with a band of brothers is not considered normal to most of us. Jumping from an airplane3,000ft over a wildfire in the middle of nowhere is far from your average career. But running a chainsaw, cutting under a high production helicopter really isn’t either. Speaking from my own fire experience, I know that Smokejumpers are highly respected on the fire line, and those who carry the label Smokejumper seem to be a part of a fraternity that only that few of us will ever understand. Tighe would later round out his career, by joining the Missoula Helitack national crew. Two
years later Tighe would leave the agency and start Williamson Forest Management in 2011.
Williamson Forest Management was thought of when Tighe was contract cutting for loggers and helicopters in the area. Tighe always found he had a little extra time on his hands and was looking to start something fresh, something of his own. And so Williamson Forest Management was founded. He would continue his passion of contract cutting for several loggers in western Montana, but when things got slow, he could work on his own projects. Tighe recalls cutting the final strip on Salmon River Woods’ very last line machine job, east of Stevensville in 2019.
Over the years Williamson Forest Management has accumulated several machines specializing in fuels reduction work. With commercial logging all but coming to an end in the Bitterroot Valley, there is no shortage of fuel reduction work needing to be done. When I caught up with Tighe, he was working closely with landowners on a piece of private land to reduce the fire risk, improve forest health and wildlife habitat, and add value to the property. From thinning to brush piling, masticating to commercial timber harvesting, contract processing to custom cutting. Williamson Forest Management does it.
The adrenaline filled days of the past are not all gone. During fire season, you can still find Tighe on a fire line somewhere in the northwest removing hazard trees, but now as a contractor. There is not much in the way of timber falling he hasn’t seen from his years of working for the USFS in the summers and then contract cutting in the winter. In the days of mechanized logging, and even with these new steep slope felling machines, Tighe brings a unique skill set not many possess. Not every situation calls for a feller buncher. Sometimes you need an experienced timber faller. A scalpel instead of a cleaver. And for that, Tighe is your guy. While Williamson Forest Management is tailor made to handle fuels reduction work, Tighe still gets frequent calls to help cut for local loggers and line machines. Some days are spent falling timber on a mountainside for a line machine, other days are spent piling brush with a skid steer. But on days when Tighe’s daughter Baylee can work with
her dad are the most cherished. You can see how special that time is when he tells of her helping on the job. As a dad myself, I can relate. We know that time with our kids is fleeting. And you can tell when talking with Tighe, he is soaking up that time as much as possible.
Family has always been important to the Williamsons. When not working in the woods, Tighe and Joy can be found rafting down the Salmon River or camping in the mountains. If later in the season, you might find the couple on top of a mountain crawling over 6 feet of snow in their Jeep. What started as a complete custom Toyota sitting on 37” tires now .yields
to a custom Jeep Gladiator with oversized tires aired down to just 1 psi. There isn’t many places out of reach or many places it can’t go. A couple that met in the adrenaline filled world of fire 19 years ago, continue to chase adventures together. Battling through the long work week to get to the weekend.
The future of Williamson Forest Management looks bright. Though tough economic times might lie ahead for the country, Tighe Williamson and Williamson Forest Management is laying the groundwork to be able to adapt and survive. Being able to pivot from 1 task to another and juggle many different projects and challenges will only help in the uncertain times that are sure to lie ahead.
“You don’t do this to get rich. You do it because you love it.” Tighe said. Timber Roots that stem from Grangeville Idaho with the manufacturing and fabrication of logging equipment now gives way to fuels reduction and contract timber falling. A company founded on adventure and hard work is sure to keep those values at the forefront. Joy, Baylee, and Tighe work together to keep moving forward in the timber industry, while holding family tight…