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Under secretary Blazer looks at Wyo pine beetle epidemic

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cheyenne – As the National Association of State Foresters gathered in Cheyenne this week for their annual meeting, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Arthur “Butch” Blazer joined the group in an ongoing effort to continue conversations about the mountain pine beetle.
    “The bark beetle situation has been impacting our forests for quite some time,” commented Blazer in an interview with the Roundup. “Looking into the situation, we realize that it has impacted about 1.8 million acres, and that is quite substantial.”
Initial implications
    Blazer recalled that, during his time as New Mexico State Forester, the area saw a tremendous beetle epidemic, similar to what is being seen in Wyoming currently.
    “Around 2004-05, we had a tremendous Epps Beetle outbreak come through the Santa Fe, N.M. area and wipe out just about every pinion tree that we had,” he remembered. “That type of visual scar is what you are seeing here with the mountain pine beetle, killing the trees in this area.”
    On a national scale, with the acreage that had impacted by pine beetles Blazer explained that in 2007, the situation was defined as a major incident, and an incident command team was assigned to address the problem.
    “It has been very well managed as an incident, and I’m very glad to hear that,” he continued. “Because it has been managed so well and we’ve had such great cooperation with all of our partners and working groups, we are at a point now where the incident can be returned to the local regions to manage.”
Current situation
    With a peak in mountain pine beetle populations in 2009, Blazer said there is a downward trend being seen in beetle numbers.
    “That statement should be tempered a bit, because one of the reasons the population is declining is because the beetle is running out of trees to eat, unfortunately,” he added, “but it is declining and efforts are being planned for and put into place to mitigate the damages of the mountain pine beetle.”
    At the same time beetle numbers are declining, Blazer also mentioned that drought can exacerbate the effects of the bug.
    “Drought weakens the trees, and when you have weak trees, they are more susceptible to attack by these mountain pine beetles,” he commented. “With warmer climate and warmer winters that we have, some of the insects that used to die off in the winter are not dying.”
    As the pine beetles are persisting through the winter months, they continue to feed through the year, increasing damage.
    “We have to be aware of the impacts of drought, and we have to continually work together to figure out how to reduce stress on our trees,” he noted. “It gets back to the accelerated restoration efforts on our national forests.”
    “The Mountain Pine Beetle is a native insect and this is a naturally occurring cycle that we periodically have to deal with,” Blazer commented. “The way we try to mitigate the impacts form the naturally occurring cycles is to work together to improve the overall health of our trees. If we have a healthy tree, it has a higher ability to withstand these attacks by pine beetles.”
Restoration efforts
    With large numbers of beetle-killed trees present in the forests, Blazer noted that the affected acres will be incorporated in acceleration restoration efforts in the national forest.
    “We are going to go out and treat more acres,” he explained. “That is going to result in less stress on those trees that remain in our forests.”
    “These beetle-killed areas will be identified as higher priority areas that will be addressed in regards to the restoration projects that are being planned,” he said.
    Restoration efforts for the forests will include thinning and working with the partners and private landowners to mitigate the effects of pine beetle damage. Some private efforts have also included identifying priority trees that can be mechanically treated.
    In his time in Wyoming, he noted that he toured some areas forests impact by the mountain pine beetle, saying, “It is very exciting to see everyone join together and address this difficult situation.”
Moving forward
    Blazer also mentioned that there are ongoing discussions regarding the implementation of statewide forest action plans.
    “Each of the 50 states has a forest action plan that has been developed, which prioritizes where work needs to be done to improve the health of the particular states’ forests,” Blazer explained. “That fits in quite well with the forest management planning that the U.S. Forest Service does.”
    Because bugs know no boundaries, he continued, “We have to work together on a landscape scale to address these kinds of situations.”
    Coupling state action plans with forest management on a national level enables the effective treatment of the resource on a larger scale.
    He noted that treatment of remote, wilderness and roadless areas also provides additional challenges.
    “It is so important that we get the right people at the table having those discussions so we can make the decisions about how we can most appropriately utilize the resources that we have,” he said of the challenge.
Wyoming situation
    “When I went out on the tour to take a look at a lot of the impacted areas, both on national forests and on private lands, I was very impressed with how people are working together,” he commented. “These conditions are impacting a lot of different people in different ways.”
    Blazer continued, “To figure out how to utilize the limited resources we have to address the situation, it is imperative that people gain the trust and respect of one another to work closely together and accomplish these goals.”
    Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

History on the range
    While USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Arthur “Butch” Blazer served as a state forester in New Mexico and now works on a national level, he has a background that connects him to agriculture.
    “My background is in range management, not forestry,” said Blazer. “I got my degree in agriculture and spent the first part of my career as a range specialist, so I know the value of the grazing community.”
    Before becoming a state forester, he spent 27 years as a range management specialist, natural resources manager and agency superintendent for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also owned a natural resources consulting company and co-founded the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society.
    Blazer added that the knowledge of range management and agriculture has proven to be a good combination in his current position.

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