> Watersheds > Old and Second Growth > Hot Topic: Mountain Pine Beetles
Characteristic red and brown
foliage of dead and dying trees in eastern Oregon.
Forests in eastern Oregon are
experiencing devastating health problems.
Forest visitors often comment on the large number of dead
and dying treesvictims of attack from Bark Beetles
and other insects.
Unhealthy forests alter scenery and
wildilife habitat, reduce timber supply, and are at risk
of catastrophic wildfire.
The problem is staggering and complex.
To help sort it out, ForestLearn interviewed
Dr. Gregg Filip, Forest Science Department, OSU College
of Forestry, and Stephen Fitzgerald, Area Extension Forester,
Forest Resources Department, OSU College of Forestry
Mountain Bark Beetle
So Greg, what's the story behind the forest health problems
on the East Side of Oregon?
Bark Beetles are always a major problem in Pine and fir.
The problem always revolves around stands that are too dense
and weak. When a drought comes along (as we had mid-80's
and early 90's) you are going to face bark beetle epidemics
occurring in lodgepole pine in southern and eastern Oregon,
to ponderosa, Douglas-fir, and true fir in the Santiam Pass.
In forests dominated by fir species, larvae (caterpillars)
of the western spruce budworm and tussock moth
the needles) many trees across large areas particularly
those areas in the eastern Cascades and in the Blue Mts.
When a trees needles are eaten and removed, the tree
cannot photosynthesize and produce "food" for
growth. So the trees become weak and vulnerable to other
insects, like bark beetles, that Dr. Filip mentions.
stands invite forest health problems.
What are scientists recommending to forest managers to do
The key message we've been giving to landowners is to make
sure you manage your stands and thin them appropriately.
We know from past studies that pine bark beetles can be
reduced by thinning and opening up dense stands. By doing
this, the remaining trees have more resources available
to them, like water, nutrients, and sunlight. This improves
tree growth and vigor and makes the trees resistant to bark
beetle attack. The key to reducing the potential for future
western spruce budworm and tussock moth outbreaks is active
management of stands, but at a much larger scale. The long-term
health and vigor of fir-dominated forests can be improved
by removing a significant amount of the fir and promoting
more pest-resistant trees species like ponderosa pine and
western larch. To be effective, though, this needs to occur
over large watershed and landscapes.
logging is unnecessary if you thin appropriately. Salvage
is kind of like cleaning up after the war and the bodies
are lying around. What you want to do is something before
the war starts to prevent the war."
Does that include salvage logging?
Salvage logging is unnecessary if you thin appropriately.
Salvage is kind of like cleaning up after the war and the
bodies are lying around. What you want to do is something
before the war starts to prevent the war. Private industry
has done fairly well in managing their land for density
because they haven't had the restrictions placed on them
that the public land agencies have had. With those kinds
of restrictions, it's difficult to manage forests to bring
those densities down. If you have density-dependent species
like spotted owl, that's in direct conflict with density
as far as growing healthy trees. The question then becomes
how do you balance one with the other?
I couldnt agree more! Salvage logging is a reactive
rather than a proactive measure. If you actively manage
and tend stands and landscapes over time, salvage logging
will not be needed.
So how did nature balance owls and forest density on the
Well, nature didnt' do it in the past because all
that area was open pine, and owls weren't in the open pine.
When we took fire out of the system, the fir became dense
and the owls moved in to an artificial situation. Then,
when the trees all died from budworm and bark beetles instead
of fire, the owls began moving out because of no more cover.
And then the people started complaining, "The owls are going!"
took fire out of the system, the fir became dense and
the owls moved in to an artificial situation."
Right! But weve got ideas on how one could sustain
them. I've been involved in the Santiam Area with a large
experiment looking at how to balance keeping and sustaining
trees at the same time y
ou are sustaining
things like spotted owls. It involves cutting some trees.
But the Forest Service is reluctant to do this in those
areas designated as LSRs (Late Successional Reserves). They
are facing a learning curve in when and how many trees can
be taken out of those areas to maintain tree cover and owls,
while not making it look like we're trying to salvage log,
and keep "harvesting as usual".
A thinned stand.
The purpose of cutting some trees is to get rid of trees
that are vulnerable to insects and disease and over time
try to recruit more pine, larch and other pest-resistant
species. In areas that we plan on thinning, the purpose
is to promote their long-term health and longevity. In the
short run, owl habitat is temporarily reduced, but we are
trying to look to the future, the long term, so that we
have good owl habitat for the long term.
So, you've got
the public looking at the Forest Service saying "Why are
you cutting trees in the LSRs? These are owl areas!". And
the Forest Service has to say, "Well, because if we don't
cut some they're all going to die. Either they are going
to burn up or the bark beetles and budworm are going to
We have to manage
these stands as they were historically at some low-density
level so that they'll be able to sustain themselves. It's
really an acute problem on the East Side to be able to maintain
stands of trees out there and keep them healthy.
So was wildfire prevention the major problem behind forest
health issues on the East Side?
Preventing wildfire was a noble thing to do. Fire was a
major problem, and wildfire then and today still needs to
be controlled. But what they did so well was to remove all
fire from the system. Traditionally, those areas had fires
every 5 to 10 years. They weren't major firesthey
were little light ground fires. They burned through the
grass and needles, and burned some of the little trees.
The big old growth weren't affected at all. Those fires
cleaned up those sites, kept the density down, and kept
the firs out. So it was no problem, and was maintained like
that for centuries.
extensive fire prevention, cooler ground fires were
common, and cleaned sites of fir trees.
Because of this frequent burning, historically, stands were
much more open, park-like, and dominated by pine and western
larch, with lesser amounts of Douglas-fir and true firs.
Around 1910 due to the large wildfires across the western
United States, we began looking at fire as something evil
or bad and began putting all the fires out. The Smokey the
Bear campaign further re-enforced this thinking. By the
1980s and 90s we see the effects of this. Stands
that are over-dense and dominated by fire which are vulnerable
to a drought and a whole host of insects and diseases.
Right. When we began to remove all wildfire from the system,
the fir came in. We harvested off the biggest pines, leaving
a lot of little pines and firs. Over the last 100 years
they've grown into what we've got over there now. Eventually,
the system couldn't maintain that, so the opportunists moved
inbark beetles and the budwormsand
began to kill trees. So, instead of using fire, the system
used insects and diseases to bring things back to the level
that it should be.
So the bugs aren't really the 'villains' here
No. I always teach that many of the insect problems and
diseases aren't the cause of the forest health problem,
they're the result of it! And if you go back, the
forest health problem, in most cases on the East Side, is
overstocking and stands, that for whatever reasonwere
kept overdense. The major reason public agencies give is
that these are wildlife areas and wildlife need cover, and
that the trees (mostly true fir) were not valuable. So they
left it. The result is an overstocked forest.
a fire comes in, it's going to burn not only the dead
material, but also the live material, and whatever
else is near there. Most forest managers would rather
not manage forests by large catastrophic events!"
I agree. The bugs are a symptom of a much greater problem.
This is, changes in forest
composition and structure over
And eventually a catastrophic fire comes through
That's the worst part. If a fire comes in, it's going to
burn not only the dead material, but also the live material,
and whatever else is near there. Most forest managers would
rather not manage forests by large catastrophic events!
We would rather be able to manage it and extract products
in a continual, sustainable way, while at the same time
keeping the forest healthy. We've got the knowledge to do
that on the East Side. It's just a matter of educating the
public and environmental groups to not appeal every sale
to the point where things get delayed and things don't get
done over there.
Blue stain fungus from beetle
Because we have no control over catastrophic fires and their
effects, we can get real resource damage such as exposed
and degraded soils and riparian forests that are consumed
in the fire. Active management can reduce the potential
for these large fires. The key is thinning stands and reducing
fuel through mechanical removals and prescribed burning.
Sounds like a complex problem
It's a complex issue that the public doesnt understand.
And they don't have the trust in the agency from past experiences,
so there is a reluctance to let the Forest Service
manage it properly.
And that means cutting some trees in order to make other
"We're beginning to
see more industries springing up over there that are
looking at utilizing more... chips, and more of the
dead and dying wood."
What are some of the impacts of East Side forest health
issues on FP workers?
When you get to the point where all you are doing is salvaging
your forest as a response to dead trees, then that, from
a forest products standpoint, has serious implications.
You are looking at a different blend of products then you
would have gotten if they had managed for healthier trees.
What you would pull out of a forest like Santiam Pass would
be some healthy wood, some wood with stain and decay, and
some totally decayed to the point where you couldn't make
a board out of it. Instead of a 2X4, now you're looking
at chips. We're beginning to see more industries springing
up over there that are looking at utilizing more of the
chips, and more of the dead and dying wood.
I agree. The quality and value of the wood coming to sawmills
Radiata pine composite
What about the supply of ponderosa going to the mills?
The major thing is the availability of wood as a result
of diminishing trees available from public lands. We're
not going to be able to make everything out of pure ponderosa
like we used to. I'm seeing a lot of the mills out there
looking at imports, particularly radiata pine (from New
Zealand and Chile). You're looking at a different wood,
but maybe making the same products. One mill was taking
fast-growing radiata and gluing it to pondersoa pine. They'll
take the pondersoa and make a real thin layer and lay that
over the top, so it looks like a piece of pondersoa with
the nice grain, but the inside is totally radiata. They
are basically stretching the pondersoa resource!
Supply has become an important issue for the viability of
mills across the PNW. Here in central Oregon weve
had mill import other species, like Dr. Filip mentions,
but also local mills have been trucking logs in as far away
as Montana in order to keep their mill going because they
couldnt obtain the wood locally off of Forest Service
Gregg Filip, Extension forest protection management specialist,
OSU Forest Science Department
Fitzgerald, Area Extension Forester, Deschutes County.