As you drive around Wyoming and our neighboring states this fall, you’ll quickly realize we’ve had an unusually large amount of precipitation with all of the grass that’s around. A large part of Wyoming has been really been dry the last couple of months, which has created some health problems in our livestock. Also, humidity has really been low for the last few months, so we do have a large fire danger looming.
While we are dry here in Wyoming, our neighbors up north in Montana never dried out, and a large number of wheat producers are having trouble harvesting their wheat for all the rain and mud. Northern Wyoming has already seen some snow, and, believe it or not, there is still green grass on hilltops around the state.
As they say, with the good comes the bad. We were blessed with a great spring and early summer – the best in recent memory, some say. Now, especially with the dry forage and cheatgrass, and numerous hunters out in force, fire danger is at an all-time high. We’re fortunate we haven’t had more fires this fall than the few we’ve had.
Fire danger in our forests, due to the pine bark beetle infestation, has got to be catastrophically high. We’re fortunate we haven’t had a major fire, like they had in Boulder, Colo. That one burned up around 180 homes along with it. But, it was a good place to showcase the need for managing and thinning the forests. All of the lawsuits against logging and thinning our forests are certainly now taking their toll, and now we pay the price.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates there are over 3.6 million acres of forests infected by the pine bark beetle in Wyoming and Colorado. In Wyoming, over 90 percent of the lodgepole pine forests are affected, or are already dead, and that is close to 750,000 acres. In the Greater Yellowstone Area the beetle is affecting the white pine nuts, which are a major source of food for grizzly bears this time of year.
Some say the pine beetle infestation is slowing down. Well, of course it is. The beetle has run out of live host trees and is migrating to less favored hosts, such as the ponderosa, limber and other available pines. So, while they will kill the other trees, they will not be successful in raising a brood of beetles to kill more trees. The beetles may have run their course, but we now have a fire danger for the next 20 or so years, and some real management challenges to keep our state from burning up.
Some say an unprecedented combination of drought, warm winters and allowing our forests to get in a poor condition are the reasons we’re in the fix we are today. Mountains with green trees are a thing of the past in Wyoming and other states. Now we cope with fallen dead trees, closed campgrounds and roads and electrical lines at risk. The real question is, can we stop a catastrophic fire once it gets started? We pray to God that we can.