Herman Pine Beetle Project given go-ahead

By Sarah Pridgeon

An amended version of the Herman Forest Pine Beetle Project has been granted, approving a combination of forest management activities that will combat the mountain pine beetle infestation in an area northwest of Sundance. The aim of the project, which is expected to begin next year, is to increase the resilience of the forest while improving timber, forage and habitat outputs.

The version of the plan that has been approved by Steve Kozel, Bearlodge District Ranger, will involve commercial thinning of 3,241 acres, shelterwood establishment and removal, group retention and selection, fuel breaks, meadow restoration, sanitation, prescribed burning and control of knapweed.

“The selected alternative responds well to the purpose of and need for action,” says Kozel in his report. “Threats to forest resilience in the Herman Project area include pine stand density, continuity of fuels, decreasing diversity, expansion of invasive, non-native plants and sedimentation of streams.”

High density causes trees within stands to compete for limited resources, which, in mature trees, results in lowered vigor and increased vulnerability to infestation. The Herman Project will reduce density in 15,168 of stands dominated by ponderosa pine, allowing the remaining trees and other vegetation access to more resources.

“Public comments on pine stand density…fell into two distinct groups,” Kozel explains in his report. “Local government, state agencies, landowners and the forest products industry were strongly in favor. Local and regional environmental interest groups were skeptical that proposed activities would actually reduce infestation levels and expressed concern regarding effects on wildlife species.”

Stand thinning will take place based on published research showing that it can decrease risk of infestation, especially when thinning occurs across the landscape and infestation is not already at epidemic levels. “I believe that taking action at this time will reduce the risk of widespread infestation in the project area,” comments Kozel.

In an amendment to the original Herman Project plan, Kozel has elected not to construct a proposed road through northern goshawk nest area stands because analysis indicated that doing so could have long-term negative effects on nesting habitat. Sanitation in these areas will occur, however, as the potential for additional infestation is high and could eliminate nesting habitat altogether.