Ravalli County Coverage

Oct 18, 2012 9:15 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

USFS, Lost Trail Ski area partner to battle beetles

LOST TRAIL PASS- Crews are in the final stages of removing more than one million board feet of timber at Lost Trail Pass, selectively logging the mountain to counter the spread of mountain pine beetles.

Perched right on the Idaho-Montana border, Lost Trail sees most of its activity in the winter. But right now the mountain is a hub of activity as crews selectively log the area in the latest assault on the mountain pine beetle.

The Bitterroot National Forest has been spraying, patching, and logging throughout the year to stop the epidemic of the rice-sized pests which are spreading throughout the Northern Rockies. The latest battle ground is at the resort, where crews are almost finished removing hundreds of infested and hazard trees.

That thinning is creating more open timber stands, removing not only "bug kill", but improving safety for skiers.

"The stand behind us is healthier, from a competitive standpoint. The residual trees are going to have access to more water, more resources, more sunlight. They're going to be healthier. And the safety of the skiers here will be improved by the removal of the dead and the dying trees," Bitterroot National Forest scientist Jerry Krueger explained.

"And removing these dead trees will really help them from falling on the ski runs this winter, from hitting cables. Not only that, it's an esthetic issue," Tod McKay with the Bitterroot National Forest added.

Newer, low-impact mechanized logging equipment has been working on about 250 acres this fall, following up an additional 170 acres thinned last summer. This project was "fast-tracked" to get the work done now, before the beetles can spread further, making the problem worse...

The Mustang Fire having burned within a few miles of the resort this summer, and with memories of the 2000 fires fresh in their minds, the Grasser family says this forest project comes as a big relief."

"With the fires that came through on the Idaho side this summer, to get these trees on the ground, get the fire hazard reduced. Yeah, it's really comforting," Lost Trail owner Scott Grasser said.

"These new foresters, these people, are contentious. They really know what they're doing and they take a lot of pride and care. It's a new age of forestry," fellow report owner Bill Grasser added. "Well we lived through the 2000 fire and we don't want to see that again."

But this work is just a start. Both the Grassers and the USFS say this project has gone so well they'll likely be working on additional tree thinning in the future.

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