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For the week of December 3 - 9, 2003

News

Forest Service to treat beetle-infested forests

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 near Stanley.

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 each tree.

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 environmental assessment.

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.

 

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