Ravalli County Coverage

Nov 13, 2012 2:40 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Bitterroot beetle control efforts wind down for the year

HAMILTON - This year's efforts to control the spread of mountain pine beetles on Bitterroot National Forest lands is winding down. But forest managers still have one more major project to launch in the next few weeks, and plans to continue the attack next year.

Bitterroot National Forest managers have spent this year in a full-on assault against the mountain pine beetle, using sprays, patches, and chainsaws, in hopes of at least limiting the insects' spread through the forests.

From recreation areas like Bass Creek on the north, to Lake Como, to Lost Trail Pass projects from removing dead trees, to stopping the spread of beetles have been underway all year long. There's urgency behind the battle with good reason, since without a major effort this year, the infestation will be considerably worse next year.

"The forest health folks tell us that right now the beetle populations are attacking trees at a 14-to-1 ratio. That means that for every tree that's attacked this year that we can see here at the ski area and across the forest, next year we could have 14 additional trees attacked by the mountain pine beetle," Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National forest explained.

"So this is an ongoing issue. It's not just happening here on the Bitterroot. It's happened in forest across the region, up in Canada, in Helena, you name it. The Bitterroot right now kind of seems to be ground zero for the mountain pine beetle," McKay added.

The projects have covered nearly 1,000 acres so far, with more to come. The regional forester has cleared tree removal on the 1,200 acre "Larry Bass" logging project, which should go to bid in a few weeks. Another 4,100 acre timber salvage project is planned for the lower West Fork.

It has been, and will continue to be, a case of prioritizing the work and money to pay for it, according to McKay.

"We've really prioritized the areas that we can treat, based on the use, based on recreation, high use areas, areas that the public is in from a safety standpoint. Obviously the ski area here. We have 1.6 million acres on the Bitterroot National Forest," he said.

"We have beetle numbers right now in epidemic populations on a lot of the southern end of the forest. So there's no way we could treat all of the dead trees. So, we're prioritizing the areas that we can. And again those are a lot of campgrounds, a lot of our recreation areas, and of course here at the [Lost Trail] ski area," McKay concluded.

Besides killing the bugs and improving safety, there's been an economic impact. McKay says the next two salvage projects alone will generate 2,100 truckloads of logs for local mills.

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