Some forests along Pine Creek north of Halfway are overcrowded with the wrong species of trees, according to U.S. Forest Service officials. These conditions have contributed to an infestation of tree-killing Douglas-fir bark beetles. The Forest Service is proposing to log parts of the area. The agencys goal is to transform forests like those in the upper left of the photo into a less dense stand similar to the knoll in the middle of the picture. (Submitted photo
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
U.S. Forest Service officials are proposing to log parts of an ailing forest near Halfway and plant a new one in its place.
The agencys Pine Ranger District is working on the Boulder Beetle project. The district is proposing to remove about 3 million board-feet of timber from the area.
It involves about 3,000 acres of national forest land on the west side of Pine Creek between Carson and Cornucopia, about seven air miles north of Halfway.
An infestation of tree-killing Douglas-fir bark beetles has severely harmed forests near Pine Creek, as well as in other parts of the district, over the past several years, said Jim Young of the Pine District.
The forests west of Pine Creek are vulnerable to beetles in part because they contain too many trees, Young said.
Trees in overcrowded forests tend to grow slower and are more vulnerable to insects and disease because there are so many competing for the finite supplies of water, sunlight and soil nutrients.
In addition, some forests near Pine Creek that in the past were dominated by ponderosa pines and tamaracks now are filled with firs, which are more susceptible to insects and, due to their thinner bark, to fire as well, he said.
Douglas-firs, as well as grand and white firs, have encroached over the past several decades because the Forest Service has put out most of the fires that used to kill fir seedlings, and because loggers usually cut only the more valuable pines and tamaracks, Young said.
The conditions along Pine Creek today not only have contributed to the bark beetle infestation, but they invite other insects as well as tree-killing diseases, he said.
The situation is severe enough that in places Pine District officials are proposing to cut most of the trees in hopes of starving the beetles of their food supply, Young said.
Harvest could be controversial
This regeneration harvest would leave 15 to 20 live trees per acre, he said few enough that the Forest Service would have to plant seedlings (ponderosa and tamarack) to ensure theres enough trees for the future.
Young said the proposed regeneration harvest could be controversial, in particular because the Boulder Beetle project is close to the Eagle Cap Wilderness within about two miles in places.
Rarely in the past several years has the Forest Service proposed to log as heavily as would happen in the units proposed for regeneration harvest.
But Young said Pine District officials are confident that starting over in those stands is the best solution.
We hope to really be able to stop the beetles and end up with a good result on the ground, he said.
Young said he expects some residents may also worry about how the area will look if its logged as the Forest Service has prescribed.
He said regeneration harvests will not create the big, square clearcuts that the Forest Service used to allow in the 1970s and 80s.
Therell still be trees on the site, but it will be a lot more open, Young said.
In other parts of the 3,000-acre area there are enough healthy trees that the Forest Service can achieve its goals with a partial removal harvest, Young said.
In those stands the agency would propose to cut trees that are dead, dying or particularly vulnerable to the beetles, but leave the healthy pines and tamaracks to supply the seeds for a new generation of trees.
The Pine Districts prescription for a few parts of the project is commercial thinning cutting only the smaller, slower-growing trees and leaving the healthier, faster-growing ones.
To limit the effects of logging on the ground, the Pine District is proposing to use helicopters to remove about 70 percent of the timber. The rest would be yarded by suspended cable or tractors, Young said.
The district also would have to build about 1 miles of temporary roads.
But commercial logging is only one part of the districts plans.
Young said the Pine District officials also are proposing precommercial thinning, which is similar to commercial thinning but involves cutting trees that are too small for mills to use.
The district also is proposing to light prescribed fires over much of the 3,000-acre project area.
The Pine District is accepting comments from the public about the Boulder Beetle project. Written comments should be mailed to Pine Ranger Station, 38470 Pine Town Lane, Halfway, Ore., 97834; or you can call Schmitt or Young at 541/742-7511.
Schmitt intends to decide how to proceed with the project about Dec. 1.
Work could start next spring or summer, Young said.