Colorado Democrat Udall says his bill will combat a great natural disaster-

Yes there are millions of  acres of beetle killed pine trees in Colorado, but also Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon and Washington, New Mexico, British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon. Local politicians respond to local demands to do something, but rarely do they realize or at least tell their constituents that that beetle kill is unstoppable by humans. The pine trees over hundreds of thousands of square miles are vulnerable to attack due to their age, but more due to winter’s failure to have sustained cold temperatures below -20 F.

I have never seen a large pine bark beetle infestation stopped anywhere by human means. I have been following mountain pine beetle kills since 1974 when I was first hired as consultant on the Targhee National Forest to help with the big mountain pine bark beetle infestation there, west of Yellowstone Park.  The current infestation is much large, it almost spans the Continent from north to south.

As far as the alledged fire danger of vast tracts of dead trees, it isn’t high, except for the year or two right when the tree dies and the needles have turned red, but not fallen off. At that time they might as well be soaked in gasoline. I have set fire to red-needled branches that were soaking wet.

After the needles have dropped forest fires can no longer crown, because the dead trees have no crowns. The only extreme fires that can happen are in gullies or other places where the dead trees are windthrown.  This means they pile on top of each other like the way you would arrange sticks and logs to get a campfire going. However, that is the exception.

The big, extreme forest fires take place in “red” timber and green timber during a drought, especially if it is hot and there is wind.

Yes, the forest has turned ugly, but the little bit of treatment humans can do at this late date is like pouring a glass of water on a house fire.

Sen. Udall sponsors bill to attack pine beetles. By Judith Kohler. Associated Press.

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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.

20 Responses to Sen. Udall sponsors bill to attack pine beetles

  1. avatar vickif says:

    The best thing Udal can do is clear as much of the killed pine near structures as possible, then,,,, plan for escpae when (yes when) the fires happen. They need to plan for, practice, and educate the public on evacuation. Aside from this, we are screwed here in Colorado.
    The damage is so bad, and so wide spread. It is having very adverse effects on a number of things here…elk habitat, fishing, and more importantly to politicians-property values and insurance rates.
    If they were going to intervene, sooner would have been better than later. They could have had a rolling clearance of the dead trees. Atleast it would have been easier than trying to now go in and clear the endless piles of dead trees.

  2. Yes,

    That is the only thing that works — clearing the red trees around structures. I have a friend who tried to save his trees in the Stanley Basin area. He had the infested trees cut down. He put up phermone-baited beetle moth traps up on all of his green (uninfested) pine trees.

    Then a wind storm came along. The lodgepole pine have shallow roots. The green trees in the recently thinned stand got more wind then they could bear. Most of them blew over.

  3. avatar Save bears says:

    It would be easy to clear some of these pine beetles kills, but it seems as if every time a Forest proposes that, or even clearing the burned over areas, they get hit with a lawsuit!

  4. avatar kt says:

    Let it alone. You do more damage by logging and damaging unlogged trees, spreading weeds, removing shade.

    What nonsense.

  5. avatar Percy says:

    “The proposal would authorize the Forest Service to offer incentives through the federal farm bill and other laws to convert beetle-killed trees into biofuels.”

    hhmmm, and who will profit from the biofuel taken from our national forests? will we be subsidizing more road building?

    I agree with focusing on areas where there are houses. This is a native insect and a natural cycle and it’s likely controlled by climate more than anything else. Are the young trees being affected? My understanding was that trees below a certain dbh can resist the attacks due to their stronger sap flow, but in dense infestations, I believe even they might be killed.

    Downed wood is the most important habitat component of forest ecosystems. The more we scour the forests of downed wood, the more sterile they become. Cyclic events like this may be important for forest productivity over the long term; after all, they evolved with fire and beetles.

  6. Percy,

    I have wondered if it affects young trees too. If it does, then will see conversion to grasslands.

    I think the biofuel thing in general is going to turn out to be a mess like the first “biofuel,” ethanol.

    Right now they think, “well these trees are dead and useless for wood products, we might as well get some value.

    First, they are not useless for wood products. Beetle killed lodgepole remains strong long after it dies. It can be made into a number of roundwood products.

    Second, once you have a biofuel industry and run out of dead trees, what do you do?

    Third, these forests are nearly as likely to burn as they think. Just visualize how a big fire starts . . . on the ground and it uses ladder fuels to get into the crowns, but there are no crowns.

  7. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    I agree with Ralph that this infestation of pine bark beetles will not be controlled by human effort The current death of whitebark pine that is threatening the grizzly population is the result of this event. At a time in the past the yearly winter temperatures dropped low enough to keep these beetles at lower elevations where Pinus ponderosa and P contorta were predominate, thus, preventing the beetles from reaching the elevation occupied by whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis); not true now.

  8. I would like to disagree with one thing Ralph wrote – I don’t even think the pine-killed parts of the forest are ugly at all. I like the diversity in the forests that I see where dead and live intertwine, creating neat mosaics.

  9. avatar Mike says:

    Get ready for massive toxic poisoniong via “carbaryl”, one of the most toxic poisons we make and widely used to “fight” mountain pine beetle.

  10. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    One reason roadless areas are still a critical conservation policy issue is that they are a target of sagebrush rebels in local and state governments for salvage logging of beetle-killed trees as a way to “bring back” the logging industry in the Rocky Mountain West, which in most cases has declined or disappeared because it had unsustainably cut out commercial timber a decade and more ago.

    In the area of northwestern Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, where I live, the commodity focus of salvage logging is biomass for energy production. Local governments have fairy visions of $-plums dancing in their heads from the alleged benefits such energy production. Here in Dubois, for example, I hear from time to time a proposal for a 30MW generator run off dead trees, feeding into the regional grid.

    The immediate problem is that a great part of the Shoshone NF is volcanic–steep and highly erodable soils. Not exactly suitable for roads that are absolutely necessary for logging to take place. (Not that any area of a forest is suitable for roads, but in the Shoshone such roads cause even more problems due to the friable soils). Yet, there is tremendous pressure on the Shoshone in both the ongoing Forest plan revision and in specific projects to push roads into roadless areas to access dead trees. This is one reason why wilderness proposals in the planning process so far are limited to the Dunoir, which deserves wilderness status but it’s certainly not the only roadless area that ought to be wilderness.

    Unfortunately, the claim that salvage logging and other such treatments of beetle killed stands will protect against fires is a powerful one, as we see with Udall’s bill. Roadless areas have never been in such danger of development as now.

    In short, the fight for wilderness certainly isn’t over.

    RH

  11. avatar kt says:

    I smell the chemical companies behind this too. I think Mike is right.

  12. avatar Robert Hoskins says:

    In response to Jim above, I agree that burnt forests have their charm. When I rode through the Venus Creek area of the Greybull District, Shoshone NF two years ago, which burned four years ago, the burnt forest was full of bluebirds. They were nesting in old woodpecker holes in the black, dead trees.

    RH

  13. avatar mikepost says:

    You have to be standing in the middle of a 5 year old + grove of dead trees in the middle of a wind storm to appreciate just how dramatic nature can be. These trees start crashing to the ground all around you. Large areas of beetle killed trees do pose a danger to forest users of all types that many may not appreciated by the uninformed. Does not mean they should be cut down, just that people need to know what they are getting into.

  14. avatar dewey says:

    I’ve been following the March of the Pine Beetle since the first trees turned red up near my family’s homestead on the rim of Sunlight Basin in northwest Wyoming about 50 years ago. It happened slowly up there. The beetle infestation didn’t seem to take off in the north half of the Shoshone National Forest east of Yellowstone till the 1990’s, but came on with a vengeance. It was astounding. 80 percent of the trees west of Cody up the North Fork of the Shoshone are afflicted, or soon will be. There is nowhere near enough manpower or heavy equipment to get out ahead of this Biblical plague by merely trimming the verge. I thought it was awful.

    Then I started going back to the Rockies of British Columbia in the autumn after many years of hiatus. O-my-God….
    *
    Here’s an interesting animated GIF of the progression of pine beetles across B.C. for 50 years. Not much happens till Modern Times…a few patches of ebb and flow, then Apocalypse Now. ( And that was seven years ago )

    http://www.pinebeetle.ca/pictures/originals1/animation-1950-2002lrg.gif

  15. Lee Mercer and I backpacked for days through burnt forests from the fires of ’88 and later when were doing research for our backpackers guide to the Teton and Washakie Wildernesses.

    Burnt forests have a beauty, especially in the right light. It gets better as time goes by. No one complains about Yellowstone Park being destroyed anymore by the fires of ’88. They certain did in 1988-9, and for a time afterwards.

    Insect kill is similar, but not the same. In both cases, a member of Congress’ constituents will complain at first if the area is large, and it is huge. Everyone here has pointed that out.

    In both cases, falling trees are a huge danger. I see the Shoshone National Forest is closing all of their campgrounds this summer so they can cut down the dead trees.

  16. Don’t forget that whitebark pine is being eliminated too, not just lodgepole pine. The failure of USFWS to account for the obvious dying of the whitebark is why he ruled to put the Yellowstone grizzly back on the threatened species list.

  17. avatar JimT says:

    I have known Mark a long time and worked on his campaign, etc. But, I think this is a bill that really doesn’t fix much. Most scientists agree it is a combination of drought and warmer temps that caused this outbreak, and short of cutting every tree everywhere, the beetles will be back. I agree with focusing on areas where there are houses in terms of fire protection, but some of the wording about making emergency powers permanent troubles me a bit, and I am a bit put off by the word “treatments”. And there is some question about what is worse…taking the chance some of the wood will burn, or cutting down millions of board feet and using it as biofuel in terms of releasing carbon back in the atmosphere, fueling one of the causes of the outbreaks…climate change.

    There is evidence that this has happened before and the forests recovered. So, is the only difference now the fact we have more people living farther out into the forests?

    Here in Boulder, the foothills are the iconic image of the area; those of you who have been here know of what I speak. Well, those pines are infected, and soon there will be a much reduced tree presence there. Someone here..well intentioned but naive,..tried to start a campaign to spray all the trees and save the view. Professionals quickly responded this was not possible, and we should get used to the idea of a more spare looking foothills area.

  18. avatar buck says:

    i am saddened by quite a few of the responses i see here on this topic. to view so many acres of once green vital areas wiped from truly strong ecological support for the eco-system is truly heartbreaking for me personally. the east gate corridor and the sunlight basin were at one time some of the finest showcase systems in nw wyoming. not anymore.
    true, their is little to nothing we can do to stop the progression of the beetle kill, most likley nature will haft to do that for us. but as far as ralph assesment of the fire danger only exsisting for a year or two while the pine needles are red is only parcially correct. true thats when the fire danger is the highest, but it’s not entirley diminished after the needles drop from the trees. i have seen waist deep dog hair timber that has been blown down and layed cross hatch style burn during the clover mist fire outside yellowstone that was truly scary. all of it was at least 3 to 4 years old but being suspended in the air like so much kindling just waiting for a chance to burn.
    the saddest part was watching the crow fire fighters fleeing down a old logging road that had been deemed unusable by the roadless inicitive. folks in cody had asked the usfs if they could salvage the downed timber years for their home heating needs but were told no.
    to read robert hoskins spin on it, you would be led to believe that the wilderness will simply vanish if the road was used. not true says I, all it has truly done is to help keep folks that wish to enjoy the wilderness for a weekend outing closer to the highway.
    with a little common sense a lot ( not all of coarse) of the beetle kill could be used to great benifit. maybe not in the great generator suggested by the duboise/jackson crowd but in other ways. It is not the big logging intrest that are conspiring to make big bucks that have hammpered the peoples access to the shoshone national forest, but the folks that use that as an excuse to try to keep the common man from easier access to a resource that sure could benifit the area.
    the beetle kill timber could harvested and put to good use, but for that to happen some common sense needs to be applied to its accesability and harvesting. unfortunitly common sense is not so common.

  19. avatar STG says:

    The pine beetle is just another excuse for hyper-management of our forests with more logging and therefore more roads. The forest is dynamic and ever-changing. Other plant species will fill the void if there is a major die-off of pines. I am looking forward to a more diverse forest–perhaps more shrubs and aspen? I assume that the pine beetle also has the possibility of being attacked by other organisms (e.g. viruses or bacteria) that could dramatically have an effect on its population and ability to spread and infect pine trees.

  20. avatar STG says:

    Fire will always be a part of the forest ecology with or without the pine beetle. Live in town not on the edge of the forest if you are concerned about your house burning down. I am tired off subsidizing fire protection (our taxes ) for starter castles and other forms of development in and along the edge of our forests.

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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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