Beetle battle shows gains

Cook Lake area shaking off infestation, says Weed & Pest

By Sarah Pridgeon

Fewer trees at Cook Lake are infested with mountain pine beetles this year than expected, said Bob Gilbert, Crook County Weed & Pest Supervisor, at the monthly meeting of the board. While 1000 infested trees were identified in that area last year, only 250 have been found during this year’s spotting activities.

“They found single dead trees, but no spread away from them,” said Gilbert.

“Evidently it got cold enough up there to kill the beetles in those trees, or for some reason they didn’t hatch and spread. We’re not seeing the spread in that area that we’ve been seeing elsewhere.”

Discovering that significantly fewer trees have been infested is encouraging, said Gilbert. It may mean that the fight against the epidemic, in that area at least, is beginning to yield results.

“What we’re finding from last year’s work is that the work we’ve done is actually paying off,” he explained.

“State Forestry was estimating a minimum of three to four percent spread. We’re not seeing that – we’re seeing maybe two percent. It raises the stakes of whether we’re actually going to catch this dragon or not.”

The situation may not be quite so rosy in the Sand Creek roadless area, however. Because it is protected, no treatment activities have taken place inside its boundaries and the beetle infestation and resulting damage appears to be widespread enough to make the area difficult to walk.

“You can see a lot of damage if you drive Sand Creek Road,” said Gilbert.

Meanwhile, though 23,000 trees were treated by the Resource District in the Cement Ridge area last year, said Gilbert, around 5000 new beetle hits have been recorded. There are likely to be at least the same number again in the project area but, thanks to the early snow, it has been difficult for the spotters to access the area.

To solve the issue, Gilbert suggested three alternatives: purchasing three two-person snowmobiles to carry workers into the area for around $30,000; hiring the machines for around $16,000; or spending around $10,000 to put tracks on three of the department’s four-wheelers.

Gilbert noted that the tracks would cause accelerated wear on the four-wheelers, but that it is difficult to justify the cost of three snowmobiles – or to store them during the summer – and the department would be liable for any damage if they chose to rent.

The board moved to go with the third option and have Destination X of Gillette put tracks on two of the department’s four-wheelers at a cost of $7140.