Gov. Ted Kulongoski will be in Klamath Falls today to view by helicopter a large swath of forest between Bly and Paisley killed by a pine beetle outbreak.

Portions of the 330,000-acre area, including the Deadhorse-Campbell Recreation Area in the Gearhart Wilderness, were closed to the public earlier this month because safety issues caused by dying trees. The area is dubbed the red zone, referring to the color of the dead trees.

Briefing from foresters

The governor will view the devastation and then receive a technical briefing from foresters before hosting a post-flight press conference at the Klamath Falls Airport.

Beetle kills of older-age lodgepole pine are considered a natural occurrence, but the ongoing and spreading infestation also is affecting some ponderosa and white pines. Forest Service officials estimate from 20 to 90 percent of the trees per acre may be impacted.

Private landowners whose tracts were minimally impacted say they were able to take steps to curtail the damage while Fremont-Winema National Forests officials were slower to react because of environmental concerns, tight budgets and bureaucratic procedures.

“The private landowners are trying to get ahead of it,” said Greg Pitman, Lakeview unit forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry. “Private landowners don’t necessarily have the same limitations (as federal agencies).”

Pitman said the Lakeview ODF unit oversees between 500,000 and 600,000 acres of private timberlands. More than 100,000 acres are within the red zone, but those lands are not as devastated by the beetle as the federal lands, he said.

Nature Conservancy

Craig Benz, Sycan Marsh program director for the Nature Conservancy, said there is some beetle kill on the Conservancy’s 5,000 acres of forestlands, but the loss of trees is minimal compared to adjacent Forest Service lands.

“We had seen it coming so we have taken precautionary steps,” Benz said, referring to thinning and controlled burns.

He said thinning and burns help restore forest health by reducing the competition for water, creating openings between trees and allowing remaining trees to grow more vigorously. Benz said some Forest Service “dog-hair stands,” where trees are tightly bunched, have as many as 1,000 to 2,000 lodgepole pines per acre.

On Conservancy lands, the goal is 10 to 20 trees per acre, which also benefits birds and wildlife.

Collins Pine

Paul Harlan, vice president of resources for Collins Pine, which operates the Fremont Mill, said the outbreak is killing lodgepole pine and other pine species on company lands.

“We have not escaped,” he said. “We are actively working on salvaging and thinning. We saw (the infestation) coming probably eight to 10 years ago, but we did not it expect it to create the problems it has … I don’t know if you could get out ahead of it fast enough.”

Harlan believes ongoing thinning and controlled burns are needed on all forestlands.

“It’s an emotional issue, but it takes strategic thinking to deal with this,” he said. “There needs to be some efforts to try to do something to break-up the size and scope of the kill. There are too many trees pulling too much moisture out of the soil.”

Collins, which recently opened a new mill that takes smaller diameter trees, is harvesting and processing as much of the dead lodgepole as possible.

Salvage efforts

Jim Walls, who oversees the Lakeview Stewardship Group, which formed 10 years to advocate forest health, said efforts to harvest and process dead and dying trees was slowed by a lack of demand for wood chips and biomass fuel.

Walls said salvage efforts may be coordinated between the Oregon Department of Forestry and Fremont-Winema because of Senate Bill 1072. Passed in 2005, it allows the state to do activities on federal lands.

A healthier forest

He believes the infestation may provide an opportunity to create a healthier forest.

“What would be left if those dead trees were gone?” he asked rhetorically, noting the infestation effectively thinned some stands, created wildlife snags and opened up the forest. “What we don’t need is to let a fire go through this and destroy the green, taller trees.”