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Ore. governor responds to pine beetle devastation

MITCH LIES, Capital Press 8/22/08

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Thursday, Aug. 21, dedicated state resources to help federal forest managers battle an insect infestation that has decimated more than 300,000 acres of pine trees in Southern Oregon.

Kulongoski in a news conference held after he flew over the infestation, said the state will back federal efforts to manage the forests with an eye toward reducing fire risk and salvaging timber.

"We can develop a management plant to provide sustainable, predictable streams of timber to rural communities, while also nurturing healthy forests that help us in the fight against global warming," Kulongoski said.

The mountain pine beetle has destroyed more than 200,000 acres of pine trees in the Fremont-Winema National Forest and another 100,000 acres of trees on private forest land in the area, creating a massive fire risk.

"We're a lightning strike away from potential disaster," Kulongoski said after viewing the decimation.

Wildfires are expensive to battle, costing Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars annually, and they contribute to global warming by putting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the governor's office said.

Cal Joyner, acting regional forester for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the state's help is crucial to the Forest Service's ability to battle the mountain pine beetle.

"It is absolutely critical," he said.

Private forest managers in attendance at the news conference applauded Kulongoski's commitment and urged federal forest managers to take action immediately.

"We're hoping it's not just lip service," said Dan Applebaker, forest manager for J-Spear Ranch Co. in Paisley, Ore.

J-Spear Ranch is among private forest land holders in the area who have lost acreage to the mountain pine beetle.

"I think we've got to look at doing something quickly on the south end (of the infestation) while there is still economic value," said Paul Harlan, vice president for The Collins Companies in Lakewood, Ore.

"The red zone will become the dread zone (without immediate action)," Harlan said.

The mountain pine beetle infestation has been spreading south since the early 1990s from the southern portion of the Silver Lake Ranger District. The infestation now is affecting lodgepole stands of portions of the Paisley and Bly ranger districts.

The pine beetle feeds primarily on low-value lodgepole pine. Higher value Ponderosa pine also serves as a host and forests red with infested lodgepole pines often are dotted with yellowing Ponderosa pine that also have died from the beetle.

Left to run its cycle, the beetle infests a forest, eventually triggering wildfires that destroy the beetle or eventually running out of host wood and dying off naturally.

The current management plan proposed by the Forest Service is to fall and remove dead and infested trees within a 300-foot wide zone on 194 miles of forest roads and at 25 recreation sites. The areas treated would provide access for fire fighters in the case of a wildfire and could be used as firelines in combination with aerial retardant or other fire suppression tools.

In the press conference, Kulongoski said the infestation "is much worse than I actually thought."

He vowed to support an Oregon Department of Forestry budget proposal to add staff to work with federal forest managers on the project.

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.

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