On Tuesday, April 2, federal and state forest managers, county commissioners, area loggers, professionals, representatives of the timber industry, Congressional and Senatorial staffers, private land owners and Public Lands Partnership members gathered at the Montrose Fairground's Friendship Hall to take part in an educational forum dubbed the "Forest Health and Colorado Private Forestlands Forum." It was sponsored by Delta County Economic Development, Montrose Economic Development Corporation and the Public Lands Partnership (PLP) and hosted by Delta and Montrose County commissioners.
Participants shared information regarding the recent spruce bark beetle outbreaks on the Grand Mesa, Gunnison, San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests. The outbreak throughout Colorado is expanding, with 183,000 new acres detected in 2012, bringing the total acreage affected to nearly 1 million acres.
Several panel discussions focused on pro-active management of the forests, best management practices, safety and a variety of effective treatment options.
Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley welcomed participants and introduced those invited to speak, noting that "Delta County is very interested in the National Forests and the timber industry."
Montrose County Commissioner Ron Henderson said the two counties had come together to host this forum because, along with Mesa County, the counties "have realized their commonality," and that lifestyles and the economy in all three "are intertwined with public lands and forests." Henderson said the forum was deemed necessary to "address issues created by a little bug," and that they hope to work with Gunnison County to help resolve the issue.
Joe Duda, interim state forester and director of the Colorado State Forest Service, presented an overview and history of events leading up to the current infestation. Duda noted that after decades of fire suppression, active forest management, such as timber harvesting, is needed to control insect infestation.
According to Roy Mask, Forest Service entomologist and leader of the Forest Health Service Center in Gunnison, over the past four years — 2008 to 2012 — the spruce beetle infestation on the GMUG (Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest) has exploded from fewer than 5,000 affected acres in 2008 into an epidemic approaching nearly 70,000 acres in 2012. Mask said the spruce beetle infestation is now the dominant threat to the GMUG.
Locally, according to Mask, the spruce beetle infestation on the Grand Mesa National Forest, near county line and the Lands End turn-off, is also approaching epidemic proportions (22,000 acres). He noted that there hasn't been an infestation of bark beetles of this magnitude on the Grand Mesa since the 1930s.
Mask explained that an early sign of infestation is the presence of fine, red powder dust on the bark (bore holes) and around the base of standing trees. However, said Mask, spruce beetles prefer downed spruce to standing trees. Mask noted that in the winter, infested trees can be identified by bark flakes on the snow, caused by woodpeckers feeding on the beetles. Woodpeckers are beetle predators and natural control agents.
According to Mask, 10 percent of the Engleman spruce trees in the Rocky Mountain Region are less than 80 years old, 80 percent are between 80-220 years old, and 10 percent are 220+ years old. Mask noted that both old-growth and the larger spruce trees are at the greatest risk of infestation. Younger trees appear most resistant to infestation. Mask added that even though some infestation has been seen, the blue spruce appears to be more resistant to infestation than the Engleman spruce.
Stress factors leading to infestation include trees downed by high winds, overgrown old-growth stands, drought and warm winters. The Grand Mesa had a large "wind throw" in 2006 which is helping to fuel the current infestation, explained Mask. Once the populations of spruce beetles build up in the fallen trees, the stressed trees surrounding them offer little resistance to attack.
Best management practices (BMP) for controlling an outbreak were discussed, including ongoing applications of insecticides to high-value trees (expensive and must be applied before and throughout an outbreak); trap trees (trees cut down to attract the spruce beetle in advance of an outbreak, then removed before infestation can occur); harvesting and the removal of wind-thrown trees before infestation occurs; harvesting and the removal of infested trees before brood beetles develop — all followed by replanting/reforestation.
Mask explained that while it is impossible to stop an infestation after it reaches epidemic proportions, certain management activities such as harvesting the infected trees have the potential to improve the timber stands, reduce fuel sources and may be able to ameliorate the impact on unaffected trees.
It was also noted that, in the absence of man's intervention, natural fire is also an effective deterrent to a large-scale infestation, but it is a terrible waste of a valuable resource. Most agreed that the harvesting of wind-thrown trees, preventative spraying, and/or the harvesting and removal of infected trees appear to be the most effective ways of controlling infestation.
According to Norm Birtcher, vice-president of the Colorado Timber Industry Association (CTIA), there is no industry in Colorado that will not be impacted by the spruce beetle infestation. Citing the CTIA's motto, Birtcher said the timber industry is "Doing the right thing for the right reason." That being the case, Henderson wanted to know why the Forest Service hasn't been more pro-active in addressing the issue.
In response, Perry Brandt of Brandt Logging, said when timber sales are being considered on a national forest, a handful of environmental groups have prevented the Forest Service from healthy forest management practices through the "appeals process." Brandt opined that "land managers need to be pro-active," and that the federal government needs to accelerate the approval process for timber sales on federal lands.
Other comments from panel members and the audience noted that conditions in the forest, such as overgrown old growth, was the problem, not the beetle. A fast-track approach is needed to deal with the beetles, which are now part of the local forest . . . that they need to deal with the problem before the trees are dead, and that timber harvesting is good for both the forest and the environment.
Floyd Reed, USFS range conservation officer (retired), provided insight regarding the lessons learned by utility companies (power lines) in the past, as they worked to protect public infrastructure through forests that had been infected by the mountain pine beetle. Reed said there are a variety of actions that impact the forest, such as fire, bugs, drought, early and late frosts, grazing, logging and recreation. He noted that fire, clear cutting, grazing, and logging are tools that can be used to regenerate and better manage the forests. To prove his point, Reed provided before and after photos of past clear-cut areas. The clear-cut areas were green while the surrounding areas were, for the most part, dead.
Reed concluded that improved stewardship and forest management is the only way for the agencies to move forward.blog comments powered by Disqus