Crandall logging to thin budworms

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It’s a tough time to be a tree in the Shoshone National Forest.

Spruce beetles, Douglas-fir beetles, mountain pine beetles, mistletoe and Comandra rust have all been taking a toll on the forest’s vegetation. However, it’s now the western spruce budworm ravaging trees in the Sunlight/Crandall area.

In response to the budworms’ ongoing infestation, Shoshone National Forest staff are proposing to log approximately 2,000 acres in the Crandall area.

The western spruce budworm is a widely distributed defoliator, according to a Shoshone handout. The brownish moths are one-half inch long and are able to fly.

Budworms don’t necessarily kill the tree, but Crandall trees have already suffered pine beetles and drought, said Olga Troxel, Shoshone environmental coordinator and project team leader. Mortality to budworms isn’t 100 percent, but it’s very high.

At a September meeting at the Painter Store Clarks Fork Spoon, Shoshone personnel outlined the proposal.

Locals supported Shoshone’s plan to remove the trees, Troxel said.

During annual August “bug flights,” a localized population of budworms has been noted in the area over the last four years, said Amy Haas, Shoshone forester.

“In the past year we have had an increase of 3,000 acres. This brings the total affected acres to approximately 15,000,” Haas said.

THE PLAN

Most of the logging will be in Crandall along the Wyo. Highway 296 corridor (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway), Haas said.

If the proposal is approved, it could begin in 2018 and last five to seven years, Haas said. Extending the project up to seven years confines logging to small areas to limit disturbance to grizzly bears and lynx, she said.

The process is called a salvage-sanitation treatment, in which dead and dying trees will be culled, Haas said. The bigger, more vigorous trees will be left standing, with the objective of swift forest rejuvenation.

Thinning trees will open the canopy allowing birds to catch insects attacking trees, Haas said.

Pine cones have been collected from assorted conifer species to produce seedlings destined for planting post-harvest, Haas said. Species diversity guards against disease.

Insecticides can be effective on a small scale, but not on a large scale, Haas said.

Haas said logging will impact the budworm population and have other long term beneficial effects — such as increasing resistance to future insects and diseases, reducing fuels adjacent to private property, recovering the value of dead timber and enhance ecological resiliency to promote future vegetation.

Locals expressed support for the proposal at the September meeting because they’ve witnessed the destruction, Haas said. “They’ve seen what’s been happening.”

The proposal said approproximately 9 miles of temporary roads would be built and 16 miles of existing roads repaired for logging.

Almost all the comments illustrated concern about more roads, Haas said.

The 9 miles of temporary roads would be decommissioned following logging, meaning vehicles would be unable to use them, said Tim Elder, Shoshone engineer.

The 16 miles of existing roads would be widened and receive some surfacing to accommodate logging trucks, but their original terminus would not change, Elder said.

LOCAL ASSESSMENT

Alice and Ray Cooley, of Powell, and their son, Jim, own homes just north of Hunter Peak Campground. Alice and Ray, who recalled the fires of 1988 and the Hunter Peak Fire last summer, say to remove the dead trees and do it promptly, lest another big fire take off.

A lightning storm could set fire to the tinder-dry timber in an instant, Ray said. “Boy, it will be just like a matchbox going up if it starts.”

Harvest while trees have value, Ray said. “The timber would be worth something now. If they wait it won’t be worth nothing. It will be a hell of a fire if they don’t.”

This isn’t the first time the Forest Service proposed a logging operation in the Crandall area, said Jim Hillberry of Powell. Hillberry and his wife, Vicki, have a place on Squaw Creek.

Before the fires of ‘88, a logging operation was proposed, but never got off the ground, Hillberry said. If the timber had been harvested before 1988, the fire might have been less severe and the pine beetles and budworms might have decimated fewer trees, he said. With trees thinned beetles can’t effortlessly leap-frog from tree to tree.

Logging must be initiated in places like Crandall or Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado where pests have distressed forests, Hillberry said. 

The Shoshone would not invest all the time and money preparing the proposal if it didn’t want the timber harvested, Troxel said; the timber sale will transpire if Shoshone can secure buyers.

Harvesting 2,000 acres is just a drop in the bucket because the Shoshone Forest encompasses 2.5 million acres, Troxel said. That includes 1.4 million acres of wilderness where roads and logging are prohibited.

If every standing tree was cut in non-wilderness, insects would persevere in wilderness areas, Troxel said. Pests also persist in locations where logging is heavy, like the Black Hills.

The harvest will not reduce the fire danger, but it will protect and/or make more defensible values that may be at risk — such as homes and buildings on private land, Troxel said. 

LIMITED TREATMENT

Hillberry said he was successful in treating a few trees on his land for pine beetles. However, he knows treatments on a large scale are untenable.

Insecticides such as Malathion and Carbaryl are the most used, Haas said. Microbial treatments such as Bacillus thuringiensis — a naturally occurring bacteria that’s a less toxic alternative to traditional chemicals — are also available, she said.

“After a project decision has been made, there will be a 30-day ‘objection’ period before the decision,” according to the Shoshone’s notice of proposed action. Another public meeting is planned this winter or spring.

Troxel said she’s concerned about public safety. At least one picnic area contains dead trees and more destruction is visible along trails. Sooner or later the dead trees will fall, Troxel said.

Large swaths of dead trees are visible along the highway and backcountry, Hillberry said. Removing said trees will alter the landscape, but Hillberry said that, to his eye, seeing fresh vegetation is more appealing.

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