The wave of dead lodgepole and whitebark pine has mostly passed in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). However, the primary reason is that most of the pine are now dead.

The epidemic began just downriver from Stanley, Idaho in the late 1990s. While the Forest Service tried cutting affected trees and also did proactive thinning, it did little to stop the epidemic. The Service’s “red tree” program (named after the color of the pine needles when the tree first dies) helped reduced the fire danger to residences somewhat, but the mountain pine bark beetles moved on just like they almost always do until a very cold winter stops their march.

What happened in the SNRA is currently taking place on a much larger scale in British Columbia and now Alberta. No amount of logging can keep ahead of the die-off.

The end result will be big forest fires. These will renew the forests unless the climate has changed making the area too hot or dry for lodgepole pine. Lodgepole regenerates easily because the cones lie in the shade for years and, which one kind of exception, open only when exposed to direct sun or fire.

Whitebark pine is not so fortunate because is grows on the high slopes, just below timberline, where growth is slow under the best conditions. It is also beset by whitebark pine blister rust, an exotic fungal disease.

The Idaho Mountain Express recently wrote of the epidemic wave. Mountain pine beetle slows down. years-long infestation is past its peak, forester says. By Greg Stahl. Idaho Mountain Express Assistant Editor.

The red trees are explosively flammable. You can light their needles when they are soaking wet! However, after about one year the red needles drop off. The bare, dead lodgepole are not explosively flammable, but the burn easily. In those case where fire does not come through, young lodgepole will sprout in the sun under the dead trees. The likelihood of a large fire down in the forested parts of the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin will persist for years.

The forest will come back one way or the other, except if climatic conditions change so a forest can no longer grow in the area.

A major fire on the east side of the SNRA burned in the late summer of 2005 — the Valley Road Fire. Beginning June 23, the Forest Service will be sponsoring educational walks through parts of the Valley Road fire burn. Story. Learn about the big burn. SNRA program reveals Valley Road Fire benefited the forest. By Jennifer Tuohy. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer

red-lodgepole-near-stanleyb.jpgRed lodgepole pine in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

A major fire burned up the backside of the Sawtooth Mountain range last summer and almost burned into Stanley Basin.
trailheadfireblowsup.jpg
The plume of the Trailhead Fire from summer of 2006. Photo copyright Lynne Stone.

 
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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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