Crook, Weston counties undertake forest efforts
Torrington – The mountain pine beetle ravaged forests across Wyoming in the last decade, and natural resource managers across the state have worked to address the concerns surrounding forest management to improve forest health and ensure long-term viability of the resource.
“We are on a mission to promote forest health and resilience in our area to provide a large-scale landscape that is ready to take on the challenges of fire, insect and disease,” said Sarah Mason of Crook County Natural Resource District. “We also see the need in harvesting the timber in these areas. It also keeps the economy going.”
Mason and Lacey Gurien of Weston County Natural Resource District talked about programming to address mountain pine beetle impacts in northeast Wyoming during a May 23-24 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.
Mason and Gurien have led a partnership of groups in the Black Hills to address pine beetle infestations.
“Pine beetles flight occurs in August,” Gurien said. “After that, we all get together, look at aerial photography and see where the pine beetles have hit. We collaborate and conduct training and education on pine beetle infestation.”
She noted that the districts utilize both spotters and sawyers to eliminate the affected trees and reduce the spread of bark beetles.
“We have spotters who go through and grid the forest. They physically walk the forest step-by-step, using GPS to mark individually impacted trees,” Gurien explained. “Then, our sawyers go in and cut down the infected trees. Our sawyers are trained and educated to help us improve our program.”
Inspectors then double-check their progress to make sure all infested trees are treated.
The teams implement cut-and-chunk practices to stop beetles from spreading.
“Once we get in and cut down the trees, the bark heats up and the larvae die,” Gurien said. “We also use thinning practices.”
Thinning spreads out the trees to reduce competition for resources. Mason likened the previous state of forests to having dinner with a friend and eating off the same plate.
“Both people end up with not enough food and a little angry,” she said. “Trees are the same. They don’t have enough resources when they are too close. When we thin, it allows the trees to have more access to those resources and become stronger, healthier trees.”
Mason added, “When the beetles come back around, they have a better chance at fighting them off.”
“We have spent $4.3 million on this effort,” Gurien added. “We’re about 63 percent private ownership, with 36 percent federal and one percent state lands.”
Since 2012, of the 500,000 acres of forest in the Black Hills, 200,000 have been affected by pine beetles.
“In the Bear Lodge district, 40,000 acres have also been walked by our spotters. They walked 4,050 miles of forest, marking trees. They have marked 8,000 trees,” she said. “We have trained over 80 individuals to walk and identify affected trees.”
To date, approximately 1,000 acres have been thinned, and an additional 1,000 acres are anticipated to be thinned by 2017.
Mason noted that the process of treating forests in the Black Hills has been a cooperative effort, both in terms of funding and management.
“We work very closely with the government in our area,” she said. “We work with our federal partners on targeted areas.”
While the federal government does not contribute much financially, Mason said, “In the longer-term, they help with timber sales and to keep timber sales sustainable.”
She also noted, “I do feel that our efforts are a partnership and a collaborative effort.”
Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser commented that funding for the project has come through several sources, including the Wyoming Bark Beetle Response funding, which comes from a federal grant.
“That grant says $300,000 should specifically be targeted for use on private land,” he said. “The folks in Newcastle are working with conservation districts.”
Some money from the U.S. Forest Service is also incorporated for thinning projects, in particular.
“The Forest Service hasn’t been absent in this funding,” Crapser said. “The state has put a lot more money in than the Forest Service, but the Forest Service is trying to coordinate their timber sale program to complement what we’re doing on the ground.”
“Unmanaged forests and the state our forests were in got us here today. If we choose not to manage our forests, we have impacts,” Mason said, noting that dense forests are more problematic than just related to bark beetle.
“It’s harder to fight fires when the trees are crown-to-crown, and the dense stands don’t allow sunlight to the forest floor, so we don’t have forage on the ground,” she continued.
Mason also noted that the groups are seeking additional funding to pursue their efforts.
“We would like to pursue consistent funding to maintain this momentum going forward,” she said.
Committee Chairman and Washakie County Sen. Gerry Geis commented, “How can we say something against a program like this?”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.