Forest health, roadless rule discussed at subcommittee meetingWritten by Saige Albert
“We have two regions of the USFS in Wyoming,” commented Jeremiah Reiman, Governor Mead’s policy advisor on natural resources. “About two-thirds of Wyoming is based out of Denver, and the other one-third is headquartered in Ogden.”
Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Bill Bass, representing the Rocky Mountain Region of the USFS headquartered in Denver, identified the mountain pine beetle as the primary concern of the Black Hills National Forest currently.
Pine beetle problems
“Thanks to the efforts of the Wyoming Legislature and the Ponderosa Pine bug money, we have a truly proactive approach,” commented Bass. “We’ve had an incident management team taking care of the bug problem for three or four years, and we’re expanding that effort.”
The Chief of the Forest Service has also widened the scope of their efforts in the Western Bark Beetle Strategy, and Bass added that it is important to be responsive and take quick action to address problems.
With expansion of the epidemic very likely and the lands affected crossing federal, state and private lands, he mentioned that treatments are most effective when groups get together.
“What we have seen in the Black Hills is a tremendous cooperative effort,” Bass explained, noting that a cooperative strategy with Crook and Weston counties, as well as the state of Wyoming, has allowed private lands to be addressed. “This strategy talks about incorporating those land components, regardless of ownership.”
“Our priorities remain the same,” he noted, mentioning safety, recovery and restoration. “Recovery and restoration efforts will include reforestation and thinning stands to make them more resilient over time, but those are expensive processes.”
Roadless rule roadblocks
With the roadless rule, however, Bass mentioned that some efforts become very difficult.
“In roadless areas, the wood can be treated and slashed in place,” commented Bass. “We can’t remove it unless it is readily accessible, and these opportunities are for small diameter wood, which is usually under six inches in diameter.”
The USFS is also allowed to use skids, but distance and economic feasibility limit those efforts. Also, many of the efforts are focused on the wildlands and urban interface, rather than in isolated areas of forest where beetles readily spread.
“Our new regional forester is very interested in looking at the avenues that we can do mechanical treatment in the scope of roadless area conservation, but I think it will still be tough right now because we have administrative review processes,” explained Bass.
“I acknowledge the complexities placed on our effort to maintain forest health,” Bass commented. “About one third of national forest lands are under the roadless area conservation rule, and that starts to limit our capability in treatments.”
“When our forest health reaches a rapidly diminishing state, the ability to respond and have tools in place to do so quickly is important,” commented Representative Mark Semlek, who serves as co-chairman of the subcommittee. “We want to be able to be bold and use the provisions within the roadless act to do the things that we need to do.”
Semlek also realized the concern for potential litigation from environmental groups as valid, but noted that the USFS should have more flexibility as the managers of the nation’s forests.
“The roadless areas conservation rule has been embroiled in litigation since the late 1960s,” commented Bass. “The area of litigation that is most bothersome is injunctions. It is not whether we win or lose – it is the injunction that stops us.”
He added that when a court places an injunction on USFS lands, their management ability is halted, and, in the case of the mountain pine beetle, more damage could result.
“There is a balancing point that the Black Hills is trying to work from,” explained Bass. “The USFS isn’t afraid of litigation, but rather they focus on the urgent needs of the forest that would be brought to a standstill with an injunction.”
Across the state
Jacqueline Buchanan, forest supervisor for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, also highlighted beetles as a problem affecting the USFS Intermountain Region, which is headquartered in Ogden.
“In the summer of 2011, the USFS developed a five year Western Bark Beetle Strategy,” wrote Buchanan in her statement to the committee.
In the Bridger-Teton National Forest, treatments to provide for human safety and recover severely affected areas were identified as part of their plan.
With forest health a primary concern of the USFS, Bass commented, “Being able to have the capability and funds available to keep a multi-pronged effort going to address the beetle problems is important.”
Joint subcommittee convenes
Thermopolis – At the June 25 meeting of the Joint Subcommittee on Federal Natural Resource Management, members of the committee heard presentations dealing with a wide variety of issues.
Water rights in the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge and Fontennelle Dam were detailed by the State Engineer’s Office, followed by a detailed report by both regions of the United States Forest Service in Wyoming.
The committee members also discussed sage grouse management and areas of the Sage Grouse Executive Order that producers felt were lacking and were provided with an update of natural resource management litigation.
Members of the committee include Senators Eli Bebout, Gerald Geis and John Hastert and Representatives W. Patrick Goggles, Thomas Lockhart and Mark Semlek.