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Front Page » February 15, 2005 » Local News » Going, going, gone
Published 4,390 days ago

Going, going, gone

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Spruce beetles devastate forest and leave no hope and no green behind

Large stands of pine trees have succumbed to the spruce beetle. This photo of Reeder Canyon shows the extensive damage.

The spruce beetles have been eating their way through the Manti forest and the end is nowhere in sight. Bill Broadbear from the forest service reported to the Emery County Public Lands council that he had met with regional entomologist Steve Munson recently up in the Lake Canyon area and Munson said the whole mountain is a lost cause. They stripped back the bark of trees which are still green and there are layers of beetles inside and the trees are completely dead, "They just don't know it yet," said Broadbear. The beetles have been rolling across the Manti killing trees down to six inches in diameter. The only method of treatment at this point which Munson suggested was taking out a layer of larger trees and the beetles might pass through smaller trees looking to get to larger trees leaving the smaller tree stands still alive. But, this was the only methodology he could suggest.

Emery County Commissioner Ira Hatch was concerned that the dead trees are not being harvested fast enough to be of any value. "If they aren't harvested soon, they won't be usable," said Hatch. Broadbear said he understands the problem and that the older beetle killed trees can't be used because it falls to pieces. The trees which have recently died can still be used and are better for dimensional lumber.

The lands council wondered about the healthy forest initiative and how it comes into play with the harvest of timber. Broadbear explained that on smaller areas less than 250 acres, it can be used to harvest small timber stands without the stumbling blocks like on larger parcels which are constantly being contested in court. The South Manti timber sale is stalled again in the courts with the Utah Environmental Congress holding up the harvest of timber on the South Manti.

Broadbear explained the beetle infestation began in the 12-Mile drainage in 1983 and has spread to the point it's at today. "The time is long past where something could be done."

Council member Clyde Magnuson wondered if an economic study could be done establishing the losses in revenue, by the holdups in court by the environmental groups. The value of the timber decreases rapidly the longer the dead trees are left standing. "Can't the forest service countersue for lost revenue?" he asked.

Emery County Economic Development Director Mike McCandless said that there are cases where private landowners would have grounds to sue in a civil court and could take the UEC to court, because these private landowners have been impacted by the failure to manage public lands.

The environmental groups hold up the timber harvests which in turn allows the beetle to rampage the forests to an even greater degree. If the environmental groups would not have stepped in on the management of the forest, then proper thinning and beetle management could have taken place.

Dennis Worwood, chairman of the public lands council said there should be a way to hold the environmental groups responsible. "Back 10 years ago the forest service proposed to do some thinning and possibly halt the spread of the beetle before the infestation was as bad as it is now. They proposed to reclaim any roads created with the timbering and also to reclaim other user created roads to leave less roads on the forest than when the timbering started. This was litigated and delayed and now the opportunity is gone. The economic loss is substantial. A big fire could fill our reservoirs with silt and there is danger from trees falling down. Most of the forest is on the Sanpete side, but this is our watershed."

Jim Gilson, lands council member, said the lands council should do something and asked Broadbear what steps could be taken. Broadbear said the forest service is currently participating in hazard tree removal in and around developed campgrounds. He said they must play by the rules of any exclusions in policy. Opportunities to do something exist, but only in small 250 acre areas.

Large dead pines present problems for ATV trail riders.

Gilson said he believes the ATV trails should be kept clean and free of hazard trees. Trees that are dead can fall down and injure campers and also vehicles and camp trailers. Gilson believes the dead trees are a real safety issue and there should be ways to get them harvested in the interest of public safety if nothing else. He said he knows of one ATV rider who carries a chain saw with him to keep the trails open, but some riders are just going off the trails to get around the dead trees falling in the path.

Ray Petersen, public lands director, said the forest service is in the beginning stages of their forest plan revision and that forest products are a big part of the inventory. Forests should be able to deliver a consistent product to the mills.

Broadbear said the forest service realizes the problem and the environmental groups bring everything to a stop. The environmental groups need to be brought to an understanding of proper forest management and that proper management produces a more healthy forest. These environmental groups have adopted a no harvesting approach which has led to the problems on the forest.

Gilson wondered who is liable as these dead trees begin to come down. Broadbear explained their liability is mainly concentrated in the developed campgrounds and that forest users need to be responsible enough not to park under dead pine trees. Broadbear said that many cottonwood trees in the upper Joe's Valley are rotting and there isn't much holding them up and they have been able to harvest them in campgrounds. Spruce trees can stand dead for 10-20 years before they fall.

The council discussed the appointment of a council member to deal with timber and harvesting and bring reports back to the council.

Worwood pointed out that he has been on tours with Congressional leaders and the environmentalists have shut down harvests due to indicator species and used delay tactics. "There hasn't been a lack of effort on our part, but the environmental groups have been successful. They have a zero timbering, zero grazing and zero motorized access stance on all public lands."

The spruce beetle, is the most significant natural mortality agent of mature spruce. Outbreaks of this beetle have caused extensive spruce mortality from Alaska to Arizona and have occurred in every forest with substantial spruce stands. Spruce beetle damage results in the loss of 333 to 500 million board feet of spruce saw timber annually. More than 2.3 million acres of spruce forests have been infested in Alaska in the last seven years with an estimated 30 million trees killed per year at the peak of the outbreak. In the 1990s, spruce beetle outbreaks in Utah infested more than 122,000 acres and killed more than 3 million spruce trees. In the past 25 years, outbreaks have resulted in estimated losses of more than 25 million board feet in Montana, 31 million in Idaho, over 100 million in Arizona, 2 billion in Alaska, and 3 billion in British Columbia.

Spruce beetle outbreaks cause extensive tree mortality and modify stand structure by reducing the average tree diameter, height, and stand density. Residual trees are often slow-growing small and intermediate-sized trees which eventually become dominant.

The beetle killed spruce far outnumber any live trees.

Spruce beetle outbreaks can affect non-timber resources as well. For example, as mature spruce are killed, forage may increase, benefiting some wildlife species. But species that depend on mature spruce or clumps of spruce to meet habitat requirements may be adversely affected. There has been a significant change in fuel type and an increase in large woody debris accumulating on the forest floor following spruce beetle outbreaks in Alaska. Uncharacteristic, stand-replacing fires occurred in central Idaho spruce stands following 10 years of spruce beetle outbreaks. Extensive spruce mortality can also affect water yields resulting in water increases in rivers, lakes, and streams because of reduced transpiration from dead and dying trees. Scenic quality may also be diminished throughout affected landscapes.

On standing trees, the first sign of spruce beetle infestation is reddish-brown boring dust accumulating at the beetle's entrance holes, in bark crevices, and on the ground around the trunk of infested trees. Masses of pitch may accumulate around the entrance sites. These signs are most visible during the summer of attack and become less noticeable the following season.

On windthrown trees and logging residuals, spruce beetle attacks are readily detected on the lower surfaces of the material and should not be confused with engraver beetle attacks more commonly found on the upper surfaces.

Some standing trees may be attacked on only one side of the bole, creating a "strip attack." The infested area may die, but the tree usually remains alive, so the foliage does not discolor. Trees with "strip attacks" frequently are infested by subsequent spruce beetle generations and may host two or more generations simultaneously.

During the first fall and winter following spruce beetle infestation, look for trees "debarked" by woodpeckers. Partially debarked, green trees are easily noticed. However, on trees without significant debarking, one must be relatively close to see sawdust in bark crevices and around the tree base.

The needles of infested trees do not usually fade or discolor within the first year following attack.

However, during the second summer, most needles turn yellowish-green or orange-red. Some even remain green until the third summer, or up to two years after the initial infestation. The needles on separate branches of the same tree discolor at different times.

Needles on infested trees commonly drop to the ground as a result of wind or thunderstorms the second summer after the tree was attacked.

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