Forest Service to treat beetle-infested
Environmental assessment under way
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
In an effort to slow a mountain pine
beetle infestation and to alleviate associated fire hazard, the Salmon-Challis
National Forest is proposing to log between 500 and 600 acres of national forest
The Stanley Interface Project also
proposes to treat an additional 700 to 800 acres of forest using prescribed
fires for "fuels reduction and ecosystem maintenance."
The various sites cover an area north of
Stanley toward Basin Creek.
If approved, the project is scheduled to
begin this summer.
According to a project overview, the
treatment areas were selected because they are susceptible to mountain pine
beetle attacks. The project area is also relatively close to Stanley.
"The primary purpose of this proposal is
to manage the expected increase in ground fuel brought on by mountain pine
beetle infestation near the administrative boundary between the Yankee Fork
Ranger District, Salmon-Challis National Forest and the Sawtooth National
Recreation Area," according to the overview.
The project objectives are to reduce the
potential for wildfire starts, manage fuel loading, maintain biological
diversity, maintain recreation opportunities, improve public safety and meet the
publicís demand for wood products.
Lodgepole pine trees are commonly used for
firewood, house logs and log fences, though the use depends on the diameter of
According to forest surveys, 10 percent of
the lodgepole pine trees in the region north of Stanley had red or brown crowns
and were considered dead in 2001. That number jumped to 20 percent in 2002.
Forest-wide, the activities of mountain
pine beetles had affected 5,171 acres by 1999. The following year, another 2,223
acres were hit.
By 2001, the amount of forest impacted by
mountain pine beetles jumped to 7,606 acres.
"Finally, the 2002 surveys estimated a 900
percent increase in tree mortality due to mountain pine beetles in the Stanley
Basin area," the overview states.
The mountain pine beetle, an insect about
the size of a grain of rice, has coexisted with fire almost as long as there
have been lodgepole pine trees, and wildfires play a key role in regrowth of
lodgepole pine forests.
In ecosystems without public use, trees
killed by mountain pine beetles burn and prompt the regeneration of new
lodgepole pine stands.
It is a naturally occurring cycle for
regeneration, according to an environmental document for the neighboring
Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
During mountain pine beetle outbreaks,
mature, even-aged lodgepole pine stands can experience widespread tree
mortality, killing up to 1 million trees each year.
And that is the case in Central Idaho,
where the native insects are at an "epidemic level," according to the SNRA
However, mountain pine beetle outbreaks
are not new to this region of Idaho. Historical records indicate that the
lodgepole pine in the Stanley Basin suffered an infestation on more than 90,000
acres in the early 1900s. Another widespread infestation occurred in 1926.
The current infestation was accelerated by
many years of drought and mild winters, as well as by old stands of lodgepoles
made possible by fire suppression. It began around 1996, starting in the Salmon
River corridor east of Stanley.
Entomologists recorded that the number of
lodgepole pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle rose from 8,143 in 1999
to 845,000 in 2002.