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Part of infested area is within the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness

by LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 7/22/08

   More than 330,000 acres of trees between Bly and Paisley, including those in the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness Area, are dead or dying from an epidemic mountain pine beetle infestation.
   The infestation began several years ago, but reached epidemic levels this year because of below normal precipitation and aging stands of lodgepole pines vulnerable to disease, according to U.S. Forest Service officials. Mountain pine beetles and other insects are endemic, or always present, but periodically flare to epidemic levels.
   Because of the rapid spread of dead and dying trees, Fremont-Winema National Forest officials will close the Deadhorse-Campbell Recreation Area — a hub for camping, fishing and hiking — Monday so crews can cut and remove hazard trees.
   Resistance building
   Recent timber sales of beetle-infested trees along public roads and four thinning projects on about 8,000 acres of still healthy ponderosa pine tree stands is promoting forest health and building resistance, forest officials said. From page A1
   “It’s almost on the magnitude of a forest fire,” said Andris Eglitis, a Deschutes National Forest entomologist who is working with Fremont-Winema officials on the infestation.
   “What’s really overwhelming is the other species involved,” Eglitis said. “With the lodgepole it’s sort of a natural process, but the western pine is a sensitive species and we’re worried about that.”
   Aerial surveys show that 30 to 40 trees per acre are infested, about a third of a stand. In areas where the infestation has been recurring, he said virtually all the trees have died.
   “Normally, what brings these (infestations) down is the beetles running out of food,” Eglitis said. “It really doesn’t stop until most of the trees are gone. I still think once the lodgepole is played out, which it essentially is, the infestation will lose its momentum.”
   Barbara Machado, district ranger for the Paisley and Silver Lake ranger districts, said the infestation began in aging lodgepole pine stands — generally described as 80 years and older — on Slide Mountain and Deadhorse Rim.
   Unusual movement
   Unusually, Eglitis said, it moved to ponderosa and whitebark pine stands throughout the Bly and Paisley ranger districts, including the Gearhart. Because of its wilderness designation, no action can be done in the Gearhart.
   Machado said the timber sales would help divide “red” dead and dying stands into 14 areas, partly to try to reduce the danger of catastrophic forest fires. Forest silvaculturalists say the fire danger is the highest when trees are dead and dying, or after dead trees fall onto the forest floor.
   Eglitis said that although there is a fire hazard and that fuel reduction steps are recommended, the chance of a catastrophic fire “is not as automatic as people think.”
   The harvested trees will be used for various purposes, including biomass, pulpwood and firewood.
   Forest managers will meet with the Lakeview Stewardship Group, which is involved with projects aimed at improving forest health, and others about the infested timberlands. Of the 330,867 infested acres, 203,029 are under federal management, including 72,351 acres in the Lakeview Federal Sustained Unit.
   Officials had no estimates on the value of commercial timber lost to infestation.
Proposed action
   The proposed action for the Fremont-Winema National Forests “Red Zone Safety Project” to deal with the epidemic mountain pine beetle infestation is available online at www.fs.fed.us/r6/frewin/ projects/analyses/redzone.
   For a map that shows a multi-year history of mountain pine beetle infestations, go to www.fs.fed. us/r6/nr/fid/date.shtml. Once there, go to animated maps, mountain pine beetle, to mountain pine beetle and click Oregon only.
Gearhart wilderness
   The Gearhart Mountain Wilderness Area covers 22,823 acres in the Fremont-Winema National Forests northeast of Bly. It was designated as a “wild area” in 1943 and was among the original wilderness areas created when Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964.
   The area’s most prominent feature is Gearhart Mountain, a volcanic dome that rises to an elevation of 8,354 feet. The mountain is known for its spectacular volcanic rock formations, including The Dome, in its southern portion. The most visited area of the wilderness is Blue Lake.
Dead lodgepole are visible along the shore of Dead Horse Lake in the Fremont-Winema National Forests near Bly. Pine beetles have destroyed trees over 330,000 acres of land.
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