Wildfire threats from beetle infestations
February 22, 2013
Summit County is joining forces with Uinta County, Wyo. to combat the effects of a bark beetle infestation in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
"We’ll work with each other on managing wildfire threats in the National Forest due to the bark beetle and drought," Summit County Councilmember Chris Robinson said. "This allows us to put pressure on the U.S. Forest Service, because we now have two counties in two states communicating. So hopefully we can get them to direct time and money resolve this problem before we have a large forest fire up there."
The beetles themselves are difficult to address proactively, Robinson said. Instead, the two groups are trying to address the aftermath of the infestation.
"The damage is done," he said. "The dead trees are there. Now the question is what we do with them. Do we just leave them as a standing inferno, or do we allow some of them to be harvested?"
The largest bark beetle infestation is on the north slope of the High Uintas.
"It burrows into a tree, lays its eggs and the larva eat their way out and find other trees," Forest Service Spokeswoman Loyal Clark said.
"The reason we are seeing such large stands of these dead trees is because we have a very mature forest," Clark said. "So these trees are old, stressed by drought and they are not as resilient and able to resist these bark beetles that come in."
Because it’s such a large-scale outbreak, the Forest Service is not able to treat such large areas, she said.
Most spraying has been ineffective, except for carbaryl, a naturally occurring insecticide, which has to be used on each tree, Clark said.
"We find that these bark beetles are becoming resistant to a lot of the insecticides that are typically used on them," she said.
It is estimated that 407,000 acres in the High Uintas have been affected by the infestation.
"So it’s a little daunting to try to treat each tree individually," she said.
Additionally, the bark beetle is part of the natural cycle of the forest, she added.
"What we’re seeing is nature taking its course," she said. "It’s a mature stand. It’s dying off. And we have new trees that are trying to grow up. If we allow some parts of the forest to follow its natural cycle, the trees will die, tip over and become compost. And it opens up areas for new seedlings to grow up."
In some areas, the Forest Service is allowing nature to take its course. In others, particularly where there are high concentrations of public use, the agency is taking more active measures to combat the beetles and remove dead trees.
"So while visitors are staying in our campgrounds or at a trailhead, they won’t be injured by a tree ready to topple," she explained. "If our visitors see that we don’t have trees in our campgrounds, that’s our reason."
The Forest Service is also allowing local mills and industries to harvest trees that haven’t completely died but are salvageable, and is thinning out large stands of dead trees adjacent to mountain communities to prevent forest fires.
"We are also working with communities, counties and the state to implement prescribed burn projects to burn out patches of them so that if we did get a fire in there, the fuel would already be burned and pose less of a threat to the community," Clark said. "So we are doing what we can for the public as far as hazardous trees are concerned, and salvaging the trees where it makes sense."
The bark beetle infestation is on the tail end of its course, she added.
"It’s not a pretty sight, but the public should remember that the bark beetles are just part of the natural cycle," she said.
While the bark beetle may be moving on, a spruce beetle infestation is just beginning.
Large numbers of spruce beetles have been seen in the Logan Ranger District, the Ogden Ranger District, and the Big and the Little Cottonwood Canyons.
"We’re using carbaryl and other treatments to actively and aggressively see if our methods can be used to help control it before it becomes too widespread," she said.