The fight against the beetle goes on
Published: Thursday, February 27th, 2014
It’s been a hard winter for burning slash piles and doing woods work, thinning trees in the Black Hills. The October snow storm loaded up the slash with ice, which hampers complete burning, so many piles are left with large chunks of unburned wood. Add to that the wettest summer in a while and heavy fuel, large logs, are wet and not likely to burn as well as they did last year.
We need to be patient. There will be time to rebuild the slash piles, fluff them up by hand or with machines, and prepare them to burn in the fall. The good news is the fires have been hot enough to kill the beetles hiding within, so the fires have done their work. Better to burn incompletely than not at all if there is any chance live beetles occupy the piles.
On the other hand the October storm also broke millions of branches off trees and broke or bent many smaller trees or patches of trees. This means the habitat for Ips pini, the Ips beetle, is in great shape going into the summer. The littlest of the killer bark beetles loves the little branches and tree tops, and the smaller trees that grow in dense thickets. While the moisture of the winter, including the significant snow on Saturday, may quell ground populations of Ips, the broken trees may counteract the moisture and result in a big Ips problem. At least one of our leading experts thinks so. Others have been silent. We will wait to hear.
The problem now is what to do to keep the forest healthy. The deep snow at higher elevations mean wheeled and tracked vehicles are challenged in mulching trees or in logging operations. Projects that would have been completed in lighter snow years are on hold for the moment, waiting for better conditions, including much less snow. In many areas at higher elevations the snow is covering the very trees we are trying to thin.
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