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Shoshone National Forest Hosts a Heated Day-long Discussion on their Proposed 20-Year Plan

I want to write a very short blog entry on a special ‘objector’s’ meeting held October 8 of this year.  The Shoshone National Forest held an unprecedented meeting to discuss just a few very contentious issues in their proposed twenty year management plan.  I will provide a link to the transcript of that day-long meeting which I found incredibly interesting and informative to read.

The meeting was restricted to four issues, and only people who had made written comments previously could comment verbally, either on the phone or in person.  But the meeting was open to the general public.  The issues were:

1. The Forest proposes to eliminate goat-packing due to the potential for bighorn sheep to contract diseases.  The northwest quadrant of Wyoming has biggest and best bighorn sheep herd.  There’s over 4000 bighorn sheep on and around the Shoshone National Forest, more than any forest in the national forest system.  Bighorn sheep advocates and goat packing advocates made their case.Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

2. Lynx habitat and forest management.   Biologists and conservationists defended the proposed thinning restrictions in certain areas where lynx were known to exist or there is excellent snowshoe hare habitat.  County commissioners and their hired company, Ecosystem Research Group, argued for more thinning in those recommended designated lynx areas.

3. After lunch the two most contentious issues were addressed with lots of people arguing for wilderness preservation.  The Dunior Special Management Area has long had illegal mountain biking and the Forest Service plan is calling for mountain bike specific trails. This was a fascinating discussion with knowledgeable conservationists going back to early 70’s when the Dunior was suggested for SMA and eventual Wilderness designation.  No one from the biking community showed up, but the discussion was passionate, with many locals and wilderness advocates feeling betrayed by years and years of promises from the Forest Service as to Wilderness recommendation for these areas that never appeared, but now it seems to be ‘dewilding’ this area.

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

4. Lastly a heated discussion of increased ATV use in the forest, and in particular Franc’s Peak and how more motorized vehicles will disturb wildlife, destroy soil integrity, and be a hazard to horses and hunting use.

We have a chance to preserve and enhance this special area…the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem–one of the few remaining intact ecosystems in the temperate world–and preserve these places for future generations with roadless areas and habitat for elk, grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, and all the iconic species that it contains.

I think you will find this a fascinating and informative discussion.  Click this link, then at the Shoshone Forest page click the link at the top that says ‘Transcripts from October 8 2014 Meeting with Objectors’



Ways Not to Treat Our Lands

Living next to our first National Forest, one can’t help feel like a caretaker.  So when I see abuses, I  shake my head and wonder “who would do this?”  “How can they come out here to enjoy this vast awesome wilderness and throw their beer cans as they walk around?”  It makes no sense to me.

Hunters left this trashy campsite which I found today. Along with their empty shells there were plastic water bottles all around the site. I packed it out for them.

People use our public lands everyday.  They enjoy the great outdoors in a myriad of ways, from hunting and fishing to just lazing around in the camper next to an open fire.

There’s a movement in Congress that all of us–the public who cherish the outdoors–need to be aware of.  Many politicians are actively trying to privatize these lands.  What does that mean?  It means that there would be a wholesale sell-off of lands that belong to all of us.  And who could afford these lands?  Only the very wealthy.  Once those lands are private, they are gone forever.  No longer will we be able to hike, hunt, fish, bike, or walk over them.

Public lands are accessible to people of all income and walks of life.  Even now, in the great state of Wyoming where I live, things have changed over the last 20 years.  Where it was understood people could cross private lands to fish, and large ranches were owned by your local neighbors, now the only people who can afford these large tracts of land are the extreme wealthy.  They are the Bill Gates, the hedge fund owners, the Texas oil men.  My neighbor who owns all the bottom lands here doesn’t live here (I’ve never met them), rarely visits, runs cattle for a tax write off, and is among the 50th wealthiest individuals in the world.  If the Ryan budget has its way, much of the lands that are now open will be closed to everyone but the wealthy and their friends.

And that brings me back to what we all cherish.  These public lands are our generation’s bank account for our children.  We are only its’ stewards.   When people leave trash around, or tear up areas with ATV’s, or poach wildlife, or a myriad of other abuses, they are forgetting that these lands belong to you, me and everybody, and future generations.

Five ATVer's tore up this meadow on National Forest lands in Idaho

So, thanks for being a great steward. Enjoy OUR lands.


Beetle infested forest–How I would have approached it

View of the forest next to my home last winter

Here is the little forest next to my property last winter

This small forest is almost exclusively spruce.  Springs from higher up feed the area, making it swampy in many places.   The springs are on public land; the forest you see in the photo is on the private lands of several homeowners.  It is a small island of conifers surrounded on both sides by meadow.  The springs run through and feed into Elk Creek, a wetland drainage with willows harboring moose most of the year.

I walked the forest everyday last year.  Many of the spruce were either downed, standing dead, infested or going to be infested.  It wasn’t easy to walk through the forest with so much deadfall.  Yet these spruce were old growth, up to 200 years or more.  The forest harbored at least three kinds of owls, moose, bear, deer, coyotes, turkeys, and lots of birds.  Wolves traveled through on occasion.  Hawks fed on smaller birds and squirrels.  I’d seen weasel tracks.  The forest was alive all the time, and changing.

The State of Wyoming acquired some funds to clear beetle infested areas around structures as part of their fire prevention program.  Homeowners were offered so many dollars to clear around their structures up to several acres.  The homeowners who owned these woods pooled the dollars offered by the State, and with the State Forester’s help, hired a local logging contractor to clear the woods.  It was recommended that all deadfall, standing dead, infested, and larger trees (even if not infested on the premise that they’d soon be infested) be removed.  Aspens were to remain.  Young spruce would remain.  The money was there, now, this year only, so the homeowners decided to do the complete logging job in one fell swoop.   Here is what it looks like today, from the same viewpoint.Same forest this winter after cutting

In the photo below, the area thick with trees on the right is National Forest property.  The left side is the private lands.  One thing to note is that on the National Forest side, although there are some spruce, its steeper (not visible in photo), therefore drier, and has predominately Douglas firs, not yet infested.Public Forest not logged is on the right.  Logged on left are private lands

Closer up

You can see the fence divide between National forest & Private cuts

OK, personally, here is how I would have done it.  First, I’d assume a seven year plan.  I’d use the money available the first year and do the logging by hand, therefore preventing all the compaction and destruction caused by the large machinery.

Around any structures I would have cleared all infested and dead trees, leaving a fire break near the structure.

Next I would have selected ‘red trees’, that is, dead standing trees with their needles still attached.  These trees can be torches and should be removed.

Then I would clear the forest floor by doing burns in place where possible.  The giant brush piles in the photo above will burn so hot that it will take a lot of time for the grass to return.

That would be my priority for the first year.  I would put the forest on a seven to ten year plan of slowly clearing, opening up areas selectively for the regeneration of Aspen and Willows.  The forest certainly needed attention as there probably hasn’t been fires here in over 100 years.  By slowly clearing, animal homes and cover would be saved and new habitat created naturally.   Many animals used this forest as a corridor to travel yet stay hidden, especially moose.  The moose used the shade in hot afternoons after browsing on the willows in the marsh areas below.

In addition, now I can see my neighbors.  This could have been prevented.  Being that none of this forest is on my property, I really had no clout, only an opinion that I voiced.  But the fear of rampant fire seemed to cloud and dominant, as well as the available funding and the recommendations of the State agencies funding the project.

It will take years to regenerate even a little bit of cover.  Eventually, though not in my lifetime, Aspens will take over this area and that is a good thing.  The Willows will come first, but even before that I predict a giant infestation of Canadian thistle that will need to be hand controlled.  By clearing slowly, methodically, with sensitivity, the forest could regenerate at a more natural pace.

Tonight I caught a program on NPR about deforestation in Indonesia.  The Indonesian government has been giving private logging firms the right to log ancient community forests.  The local indigenous peoples are starving without their food source–the forest and its inhabitants.  I listened to a government agent say “This forest is declining and should be cut”.  Then I heard an indigenous leader say “This forest contains small streams that give us water, animals like tigers, orangutans and birds, and other animals we hunt for food, and plants we need for medicine.”  I ask you:  Whom of these two parties knows more about forest management?

When a good fire is a bad fire. Grizzlies and pine nuts

I’ve been working with a small chain saw on the trees around my upper cabin.  Most of my 6 acres is on a plateau above the main cabin.  That arcreage butts up to Shoshone National Forest.  The original owner of my cabin, Doc Firor, deeded that area to Nature Conservancy who gave it to the forest service.  That entire plateau extends for several miles and is prime elk habitat.Riddle Flat from across the river. Prime elk habitat

Almost all of the trees up there are Pinus flexilis or Limber Pine.  Limber Pine is a white bark pine, which basically means it has bunches of 5 needles.  The pine whose common name is Whitebark pine is Pinus albicaulis.  That’s the one that everybody is talking about when they say Grizzlies are dependent on the whitebark pine crop.   But Limber Pine seeds are just as tasty, and squirrels cache them just the same.  Whitebark Limber on left; doug fir on right

Pinus albicaulis and Pinus flexilis are both considered keystone species–that is, without them, an ecosystem can just cascade apart.  And both of them are being infected with an imported fungus that is the cause of white pine blister rust.  This fungus can kill a tree, and its killing massive amounts of Whitebark Pines in the Pacific Northwest.  The Rockies have not been quite as vulnerable because its so much drier here.  But with global warming, and the pine beetles, trees that are weakened by the fungus succumb quickly.My one room upper cabin.  No water. No plumbing.  Yes heat!

I was trying to find out if grizzs will eat Limber Pine nuts as well.  That was important to me, because many of my trees have the rust.  And I’m trying to find out how to identify correctly the rust, as well as how to treat the trees.  Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone.  Dead whitebark pines

I went to the National Forest administrative offices last week in Cody. They are all so helpful and nice there.  One of the supervisors lent me a new phamphlet and told me there’s a pheromone for the beetles, but nothing for the rust.  She said its awfully hard to determine the difference on the tree.

What I really want is a source of blister rust-free seedlings to underplant.  The bad news is that whitebarks take 40-50 years to begin to cone.  But I can wait.  The worse news is that if you can even find a source of seedlings, expect 50% mortality in the first few years.  In fact, the booklet has a really complicated formula to determine how many seedlings you need, based on existing site infections and super-overplanting for death.  The thing I think would be smart would be to do successive planting over a period of 5-7 years.  And since I have a test plot that could be a model for the rest of the nearby forest, I’d love it if the Forest Service used me for testing.  Robin at the Ag department told me they do test plots on private land often.

Meanwhile, I’m going on what’s said on the internet and in this phamphlet.  I’ve been limbing up by hand and by machine up to 6-8′ from the ground all of my trees (this is a several year project!), starting with around my upper cabin.  Since the trees are older, most of the bottom limbs are dead anyways.  But limbing up will provide air circulation and light, both will help the trees health.Before pruning; cabin is in the background

Another interesting thing about blister rust is the Ribes (Gooseberry) connection.  When the rust first came to this continent, in the 1930’s, they found that Ribes was a host.  So the government in their wisdom, decided to eliminate all the Ribes in the West.  But there are so many species of Gooseberry native to the West, over 150 in North America.  And Ribes is an important food for wildlife.  You could never eradicate all the Ribes, and that’s just what they found.

As I was doing all my pruning, sure enough, many many trees have Ribes growing right on top of the trunk.  Besides being a host for a nasty disease, I did have to wonder about other types of symbiotic relations between the two, for example nutrient exchange.  I haven’t learned about that yet.

Whitebark pines, including my Limber Pine, are an amazing tree.  Unlike most pines, they are not wind pollinated, but dependent upon the Clark’s Nutcracker for dispersal.  Squirrels too  cache the seeds but not as far.  They grow on thin soils, at high altitudes, and usually are the first to colonize in disturbed sites, such as fires and landslides.  Grizzlies depend on their nutritious content to fatten them up for winter, or satisfy them in the early spring.  Grizzlies can’t climb the trees to get the seed.  Instead, they are experts at finding squirrel caches and robbing them.  When I asked about my Limber Pines, a forester said that grizzlies eat their seeds, but they are rougher so they aren’t number one on the menu.  Obviously my plot as well as the forest next to me is just as important for the grizzly recovery.

The benefits of fire in this care are so mixed.  Whitebarks are fire-dependent.  Where fires have been suppressed, more shade tolerant conifers replace them and there is little opportunity for regeneration.  So they like that clear open ground.  But their cones don’t open with heat.  The seeds are animal dispersed, so there needs to be stands for their new growth, which means they like low- and moderate-intensity fires.  That’s hard to have in areas with so much beetle kill and fire suppression like my valley.  To add fuel to the fire so to speak, scorch or fire damage on trees that would otherwise live, increases their susceptibility to beetle-kill.After pruning.  Cabin is now visible. Deer will love this!

Regardless, I’m thinning away, hoping for more air circulation, light, and in addition all that thinning imitates a ground fire.  Many of the natives I would plant in California requires a good chopping back to the ground every so often to mimic fire.  That’s what I’m doing for now.