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Sawtooth National Recreation Area Battles Pine Beetle "Epidemic"

by Jon Hanian
KBCI TV, July 20, 2004

Mountain pine beetle an Stanley, ID -- It is considered one of the most beautiful places in the state of Idaho. For many people who have been there, it is one of the most beautiful places in the lower 48. It has such scenic value that congress decided to have it declared a national recreation area. But while the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) has inspiring panoramic scenery, it also has such a severe problem with mountain pine beetles that the outbreak is threatening the entire area with the possibility of an extreme fire event according to forest officials.

Joe Harper is the deputy area ranger for the SNRA and says hundreds of thousands of trees are dead and thousands more are in the process of dying as a result of the beetle epidemic. "The red needle trees that you can see are basically the trees that were hit by the beetle last year and they are dead. The beetle is flying now and is preparing to hit other trees."

There are 5 major subdivisions within the SNRA that fire experts say could be destroyed if a major fire were to start in the Stanley area. The predominate tree in the SNRA is lodgepole pine that fire experts say will crown and burn intensely given that many of them are dead. Experts say such a fire could produce extreme fire conditions like those experienced during the Yellowstone fire.

Harper says because of the large number of people who use the SNRA, a forest fire would create added difficulties for fire fighters. "What we have is 5 major subdivisions and the huge recreational complex at Redfish Lake. At the right time on the weekend you will have up to 2,000 people up there and 700 cars. And that could create real problems for us if mother nature decides to set the big one off." Harper says the forest in the SNRA is dense and continuous with few natural fire breaks.

Local residents are concerned enough about the problem to do what was for many of them once unthinkable. Many residents of Stanley who have called themselves environmentalists are now advocating more aggressive management of the forests that surround Stanley. Sandy Vail, is a member of the Sawtooth City Homeowners Association which is now advocating logging to thin the forests around homes in the region. "In the past it (the drying trees) has not been a huge concern. Everybody has noticed and made mild inquires over the last few years. But within the last year it has become something we can not ignore. The trees are turning red and have been doubling each year. As soon as the hot weather hits we have more." Vail says the concern over dead and dying trees has gotten to the point where city officials in conjunction with federal agencies have decided to take action.

Vail says opposition to logging has diminished as the threat from wildfire has increased. "I am an environmentalists. And I have said in the past we don't want to see logging trucks up here. It is too beautiful and we don't want to see big swaths of trees being cut. We don't want any ruination. But we have ruination with red trees. So the opposition to the logging has died down in light of the concern of those red trees taking over the landscape."

Forestry officials have been employing logging to thin dead and dying sections of the forest and they have also been applying the chemical pesticide carbaryl, in the spring and fall, to reduce the number of infested trees. Ladd Livingston is a bug expert for the Idaho Department of Lands. Livingston says the infestation has reached epidemic proportions in the forests around Stanley because all of the trees are the same variety and similar in age. "There is no easy way to kill them. Their success is basically a matter of stand susceptibility. The beetles get started and if we have extensive areas of trees of this same size and vigor, you get an outbreak of what we are seeing now in the Stanley basin."

Officials held a public information exchange at the Stanley Community Center on Monday to discuss the problem and the wildfire risk. The Forest Service has been seeking public feedback on specific methods that might be utilized in the future to reduce the fire risk and promote forest health in one of the most beautiful areas of the state.

Jon Hanian
Sawtooth National Recreation Area Battles Pine Beetle "Epidemic", July 20, 2004

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