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Wyoming State Forestry provides update to the Joint Agriculture Committee

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Cheyenne – In their annual Forest Health briefing, Wyoming State Forester Kelly Norris brought an update about Wyoming’s forests to the Wyoming Legislature.

“I come from a county which is 80 percent federal land, and much of it is forested land and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sagebrush land,” says Speaker of the House Albert Sommers of Pinedale. “The policies happening on these lands happen to all of us – from grazers and oil and gas to recreators and wildlife enthusiasts.”

Forest health

“Forest health monitoring is a collaborative effort,” says Norris. “Over 19.3 million acres were surveyed for forest health threats in 2023. Out of the 19.3 million acres flown, approximately 88,000 acres were found to have insect, disease or abiotic issues, excluding fire, which is down from aerial surveys conducted in 2022.” 

With above-average rainfall in 2023, after three consecutive years of prolonged drought, she notes there was likely a decrease in Wyoming’s most damaging insect.

“The western spruce budworm continues to be Wyoming’s most damaging force by acreage,” she continues. “This is a defoliator which typically attacks Douglas fir trees.”

Mountain pine beetle killed trees and continues to increase across the state.

 In Pinedale, a rare outbreak of white satin moth caused problems in narrowleaf cottonwood, aspen and willow trees in and around the city.

In other invasive species news, monitoring continues for the emerald ash borer, and the species has not yet been seen in Wyoming.

The Japanese beetle was found in Sheridan in 2020, but no further identification of the insect has been seen.

One positive confirmation of the spongy moth was found in Park County, as well.

“Due to the concern of transferring non-native insects to the Black Hills via green logs, Wyoming State Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Neiman Timber Company coordinated a surveillance program,” Norris says. 

In the process of debarking all of the logs, no insects of concern were identified in the traps.

Fire season

2023 was the second year in a row of a below-average fire season, with only 515 fires on 10,789 acres. 

“State forestry processed 675 fire bills, which included about 800 firefighters,” Norris notes. “Our Wyoming team assisted in fires in Louisiana, Idaho, Montana and Utah.” 

Additionally, Wyoming State Forestry celebrated its 20th year in the Helitack program. Over the last 20 years, the Helitack program responded to 686 incidents and had 76 state forestry seasonal workers participate.

The Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) program also assisted in the state throughout the year. Norris noted the program is a “true collaborative effort” with multiple partners making investments at the SEAT base at the Casper Airport. 

Good Neighbor Authority

Wyoming State Forestry is also working to increase the pace and scale of active management on Wyoming’s federally-managed forests through the Good Neighbor Authority.

“The Good Neighbor Authority program allows the state to partner with federal agencies to do work on federal lands by utilizing the state’s expertise and contracting system to help get more work done on the ground,” Norris explains.

Since the program started, state forestry has contracted over 11,000 acres of federal lands, selling 32 million board feet of timber. In 2023, the Roughneck Timber Sale on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest will provide logging on 1,402 acres. 

Norris also says the program will continue to grow, with plans to conduct National Environmental Policy Act surveys and forest-wide agreements with the Shoshone and Caribou-Targhee National Forests. 

Large-scale projects, including collaboratives with non-governmental organizations, are occurring throughout Wyoming.

“Beyond the use of the Good Neighbor Authority program, state forestry has reinvigorated the shared stewardship conversation with the USFS Intermountain and Rocky Mountain regions,” Norris explains. “Shared stewardship is about acknowledging Wyoming’s priorities and incorporating them into the USFS planning efforts, with an end goal for both regions to allow their action to a place we all agreed need the most work done, no matter the ownership.” 

Forest plans

With forest plans coming forward, Norris notes each region is kicking off at least one major forest plan revision, and state forestry plans to be actively engaged in those efforts.

“There are several forest plans about to be developed, and what comes out of those will be critical to the state of Wyoming and people like me, frankly, in my area,” says Sommers. “I think how we as citizens, industries and legislators can become involved in these processes meaningfully is important.”

Watch the entirety of the Forest Health Briefing on YouTube at

Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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