Forest Service intends to restore areas in Wyoming with logging, prescribed fire, and building roads

The project would take place in the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming

Beaver Creek Fire intensity
Varying burn intensities on the Beaver Creek Fire in the Medicine Bow-Routt NF in Colorado about 1 mile south of the Wyoming state line. The area had large areas of beetle-killed trees. July, 2016. InciWeb.

The U.S. Forest Service has a plan to treat 360,000 acres in the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming by logging, thinning, prescribed burning, and building 600 miles of roads. The justification for what they are calling the Landscape Vegetation Analysis project, or LaVA, is to treat areas in the forest with the intention of “restoring forest health”. This area just north of the Colorado/ Wyoming border has been heavily impacted by Mountain Pine Beetles, so it fits the agency’s definition of an unhealthy forest and is considered by the U.S. Forest Service as an undesirable condition.

Landscape Vegetation Analysis project
The areas in the Medicine Bow National Forest north of the Colorado line would be part of the Landscape Vegetation Analysis project.

The Forest Service intends to build 600 miles of roads, clear cut 95,000 acres, selectively cut or commercially thin 165,000 acres, and use prescribed fire, mastication, and hand thinning on 100,000 acres.

Climate change that brought drought and warmer weather has provided a better habitat for the beetles. During normal times their spread is inhibited in the higher elevations by cold winters. Several days with low temperatures of around 35 degrees below zero can knock them back, but if that does not occur the rice-sized insects can come back with a vengeance the next summer.

Beetle-killed trees can be hazardous to firefighters due to the possibility of falling trees and burning snags. And, 5 to 15 years after the outbreak heavy ground fuels make fireline construction difficult. The dead trees can also be problematic near roads, trails, and structures. But a couple of years after the beetle attack and the red needles have been shed, the tree skeletons are less prone to crown fires than green trees. In 2015 University of Colorado Boulder researcher Sarah Hart determined Western U.S. forests killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic are no more at risk to burn than healthy Western forests. Other scientists have found similar results.

Below is an excerpt from the Washington Post:

Not everyone considers the plan a good idea. Some biologists say science doesn’t back up the efficacy of the treatments proposed, particularly logging and the prescribed burns that the Forest Service calls necessary for lodgepole pine to reproduce and more diverse species to take root.

“They say they are going to reduce fuel loads to limit wildfires, and the literature doesn’t support that,” said Daniel B. Tinker, an associate professor at the University of Wyoming, who has studied the region for 23 years. “We’ve had fires this summer that burned through areas that were clear-cut 15 years ago. Those stands weren’t supposed to burn for 100 years.”

Conservation groups also say the Forest Service truncated scientific review in a rush to meet congressional demands for increased timber production on public lands. For now, the proposal does not specify which parcels would be targeted and where those hundreds of miles of road would be built.

In the Washington Post, article Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, was quoted as saying “Certainly, prescribed burning doesn’t pay its way — it’s expensive at around $100,000 per acre.”

If there is a prescribed fire somewhere that actually cost $100,000 an acre, which is very hard to believe, it is definitely an outlier. The costs vary greatly across the country and by vegetation type. They can be as inexpensive as less than a dollar an acre in Oklahoma, but usually run $10 to $250 an acre.

The federal agencies have had to cut back on their prescribed burning programs in recent years due to budget reductions.

The Forest Service expects to make a decision on the Medicine Bow plan in mid-2019.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Gary.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

9 thoughts on “Forest Service intends to restore areas in Wyoming with logging, prescribed fire, and building roads”

  1. I’ve got mixed feelings about this plan. On the one hand, we do need to conduct some large-scale studies on landscape level manipulations in beetle-killed forests to see exactly how the cost/benefit (economic and ecologic) plays out. On the other hand, putting in 600 miles of new road across the area will definitely have a huge negative environmental impact both short- and long-term. This is a forest that has seen fairly intensive manipulations over the years in various areas but still contains some large fairly undisturbed cores. If this is truly going to be an analysis project, they should be protecting core roadless areas as comparison study sites and engage a full suite of monitoring studies before, during, and after the treatments.

  2. Given the Forest Service’s commitment to one year contracts, how is a company going to justify buying the necessary mastication equipment? Those big boys are not cheap and my bank is going to want a multi-year contract in hand before they write any checks. As with your comments on air tanker contracts, Congress is going to have to step up before any meaningful work will get done.

  3. This is so much better then the “Let it burn policy” after loosing our home to the Roosevelt Fire. I think this is long over due! We will now be charged 10,000s of thousands of dollars for clean up. to even begin to rebuild. so if there are any loggers out there we have lots of burned timber we need out! Hoback Ranches, 307-365-7557 wyohdh@gmail.com

  4. BEETLES: Though I understand and accept the concept that beetle-kill stands are less likely to support crown fires, and may be no more likely to burn than green stands, what about ignition? Seems to me counterintuitive to say that dead standing trees with dead needles are not more likely to IGNITE. Probability of ignition on beetle-kill vs adjacent green timber? Surely this has been analyzed?

  5. What about the air pollution caused by “prescribed burns”. How does this burning differ from the slash and burn that we eschew in othe countries? And what can justify all the damage from road building?

  6. I believe something has to be done in all our Public Lands in this Country. Yes road building damages things but if done in a responsible way it can be done. All of this of course takes money. The plus side I think is that it would be a start to managing Forests to help in fire prevention and provide access to remote areas for Forest Fire suppression. These areas could be replanted with trees too. All of these measures could provide jobs also.

  7. The roads provide access for the project work…. Logging equip, fire engines, ECT don’t magically float through the air. From what I’ve read on other sites, these roads will be temporary. This project will make errors, I’m sure, but this may be the place to find out if we’re capable of large-scale restoration…. Californias Sierra Nevada contain 100+ million dead trees, the next 50 years of forest management will be fascinating…

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