Brown Baldy trees part of natural
Sun Valley master plan to address
forest health issues, too
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Thick stands of Douglas fir are as much a
defining characteristic of Bald Mountain as the ski trails that weave among the
old pine trees.
That’s why Sun Valley Co. and the U.S.
Forest Service are working together in an ongoing effort to maintain the health
of the mountain’s forests. There are, however, several natural challenges to
Pine-tree-eating beetles, a natural
part of the ecosystem, are at work in the forests on Bald Mountain. Though they
are not at epidemic levels like beetles in the nearby Sawtooth Valley, ongoing
drought and the relative old age of the forest are making the trees more
susceptible. Express photo by David N. Seelig
While mountain pine beetles are invading
the Sawtooth Valley, killing vast stands of lodgepole pine trees as they go,
several native species are at work on the flanks of Bald Mountain, too. The
Douglas fir beetle and a parasite called dwarf mistletoe are killing many old,
drought-stricken trees on the world-famous ski mountain and in nearby forests.
"Change occurs there, too, just like
everywhere else," said Jim Rineholt, a forester with the Sawtooth National
Rineholt said the Doug fir beetle has the
capability of flaring up like the Sawtooth Valley’s mountain pine beetles, but
so far has not. He pointed out that the processes, whether on Bald Mountain or
in the Sawtooth Valley, are natural.
But Bald Mountain is a year-round
recreation site that gets a little special attention.
"I think the mutual goal is to maintain a
vegetative diversity on the mountain, to start growing new stands as these older
stands start to unravel," said Kurt Nelson, the Sawtooth National Forest’s
Ketchum District ranger. "We want to try to keep Bald Mountain from becoming
Nelson said Bald Mountain is designated
for high-intensity recreation in winter and summer. One of the objectives,
therefore, is to establish a healthy population of trees for aesthetic reasons.
The Douglas fir beetle infests and kills
Douglas fir trees in western regions of North America, but it normally kills
small groups of trees. During outbreaks, 100-dead-tree groups are not uncommon.
Damage is usually greatest in dense stands of mature Douglas fir, and many of
the stands on Bald Mountain are aging and dense.
Dwarf mistletoes are small, leafless,
parasitic flowering plants that commonly infect Douglas fir and lodgepole pine
trees, among others. Fascinatingly, the parasites shoot seeds at speeds up to 60
mph. Infection starts when the sticky seeds come into contact with a suitable
As the seed germinates, it grows into the
bark and underlying woody tissue. The parasite produces root-like structures
called sinkers that steal water and nutrients from the host. Trees infected by
dwarf mistletoe often look only half-dead.
"Eventually, the tops will slowly decay
and die, and they’ll hang on like that for years and years," Rineholt said.
Both the Douglas fir beetle and dwarf
mistletoe are at work on Bald Mountain, where most of the forest consists of
Douglas fir trees. There are also lodgepole, whitebark, subalpine fir and aspen
"The Doug fir beetle is starting to kick
up a little bit, but the biggest threat up there is probably the mistletoe on
the Doug fir," Rineholt said. "It’s been up there for years and years. The only
way to get rid of it would be to do a burn or a clear cut, which wouldn’t be
Sun Valley Co. is aware of the threats to
Bald Mountain, which it leases from the Forest Service. The company is
incorporating a vegetation management plan as part of its ongoing 20-year master
planning process, but the final document has not yet been submitted to federal
land managers. The public is still in the dark on plans to manage the ski hill’s
"They have contracted with a consultant
out of Montana to look at the previous vegetation management plan and assess it
for 20 years later," Nelson said.
But work has been ongoing in the forests
of Bald Mountain for 30 years.
The Forest Service was involved in a small
logging operation in the 1980s, Nelson said. It has also worked to thin some
stands and plant various species of new trees.
But to get a grasp on something like the
dwarf mistletoe, more drastic measures might be needed, Rineholt said. Entire
sections of forest between ski trails could be cut down and re-grown.
"But Sun Valley doesn’t want to do that
because people will be skiing everywhere," he said.
Also, the young trees would likely be cut
off by ski edges passing over.
The future will become clearer when Sun
Valley submits its management plan to the Forest Service this summer. Nelson
said the plan, which will include much more than forest health issues, will be
released for public review sometime this fall.
"The vegetation master plan is an
important component, but the master development plan should look at development
over the next 10 to 15 year period," Nelson said. "That will go through the
public review and comment process."