Story and photography by Justin FranzRonald Buentemeier has been involved with the timber industry his entire life. Before coming to the Flathead Valley in the 1940s, Buentemeier spent his childhood running around a logging camp in Minnesota. His father was a logger and his mother was the camp cook. Buentemeier learned the ways of the woods from the men who worked there. In the mid-1940s, when Buentemeier was still a boy, the family moved to Montana when the Plum Creek mill was getting its start in Columbia Falls. Buentemeier has called the town home ever since, working for F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. for more than 40 years as a forester and later vice president and general manager. He has also been heavily involved with the community, serving on numerous boards, most notably the Flathead Conservation District, where he is currently the chairman. Recently, Stoltze named an educational forest near Columbia Falls in his honor.
Flathead Living sat down with Buentemeier recently to talk about conservation and community service.
Flathead Living: Your father was a logger for many years and you practically grew up in a logging camp. How did that influence your decision to get into the industry?
Ronald Buentemeier: A lot. In those days you didn’t have the same rules you do today and so I was around lumber mills all the time as a kid. I’d go down on the weekends and help my father sometimes, and when I got old enough to have a driver’s license one of the ways I made money was hauling slab wood around town for $3 a load. I thought that was big money at that time, but it was a lot of work.
FL: After 40 years in the industry, what are some of your favorite memories at Stoltze?
RB: I worked in the woods for a long time so I have so many memorable experiences. One of the neatest was to see the changes in the timber industry. Stoltze was the first company to get mechanical harvesting equipment west of the Mississippi, with the exception of one other company in Oregon. Our company had a lot of firsts, though. The Stoltze family and the management at the mill was always proactive in using state-of-the-art technology, and that’s one of the highlights for me.
FL: For nearly twenty years you’ve been on the Flathead Conservation District board. You’ve also served with the Montana Tree Farm Board, the Columbia Falls Rural Fire Department board, and others. Why is community service so important to you?
RB: To be honest, if they had told me in college that I was going to be speaking publicly so much I would have said “goodbye.” I wanted to be a forest engineer working in the woods, but life didn’t turn out that way. I was sort of forced to be in the public because of my job, but I do think we need more people in the public arena. If we had more middle-of-the-road interests on boards and committees we might be better off because there are so many people on committees who have an agenda. I don’t have an agenda. We need to manage our resources for the good of all, not just for a single interest.
FL: You were one of the founding members of the Family Forestry Expo that celebrated its 26th anniversary this spring. How did that start?
RB: Before we got the forest expo going, I’d go into schools and talk about forests – how they grow and how they die and how we manage them.
The emphasis of the expo is to help folks understand the land. We had an extension forester from the Portland area years back and he mentioned that they had a program that took fifth-graders to a private tree farm to teach them about the land. The idea was to let a whole gamut of folks who were interested in the forest have a venue to talk to the kids. The kids could go to the expo for a day and see all these presentations about wildlife, fisheries, forestry, packers, everyone. So there were eight or 10 of us who got together to start something like that here. And that’s what we did.