14-07-23 Baldy thinning project 3 C.jpg

Dwarf mistletoe has become an increasingly chronic problem in Douglas fir trees on Bald Mountain. The parasitic plant diverts nutrients to the bottom portion of the tree, creating bushy areas there and sparse needles up top, which eventually kills the tree from the top down due to lack of nutrients.

The Ketchum Ranger District is proposing a comprehensive project to improve forest health on Bald Mountain.

Community members gathered Monday in the Ketchum Community Library’s lecture hall to a have a discussion about the future of Bald Mountain’s trees. Hosted by the National Forest Foundation—whose mission is to bring people together to restore and enhance national forests—the presentation featured an overview of previous efforts, current efforts and proposed efforts by the Forest Service, as well as an overview of the insects and parasitic plants impacting the forest on Bald Mountain.

Described as a “chronic problem” by Forest Service entomologist Laura Lowrey, infestations by bark beetles and dwarf mistletoe—a parasitic plant that grows “roots” into the stem of its host tree and extracts nutrients and water from it—are killing Baldy’s trees.

Lowrey, who has been studying Bald Mountain since 2005, said a solution can come in a variety of ways, but one option could be increasing species diversity on the mountain, limiting the food source that these insects and parasitic plants depend on.

Dwarf mistletoe and bark beetles both attack the same species of tree: Douglas firs, which are plentiful on the mountain. The bark beetles prefer those trees particularly when they are drought-distressed, as they are now, because they produce more ethanol, which the beetles are attracted to. Trees stricken by bark beetles begin to brown as the beetles burrow into the tree to reproduce under the bark. Dwarf mistletoe diverts all the nutrients and sugars of the tree into its bottom portion, where the needles begin to be concentrated, and the tops of the trees begin to lose life.

Zach Poff, recreation programs manager with the Ketchum Ranger District, said these are not new issues, but the problem is growing faster than it can be managed due to frequent drought. Poff explained that over the years, many different treatments have been tried, including synthetic pheromone patches that deter beetles from infesting trees. Other treatments tried on Baldy included mastication, lopping and thinning. Those efforts have cost more than $904,000 between 2005 and 2019, according to Poff. Funds for the treatments have come from various entities, Poff said, including Sun Valley Co.

The Forest Service is now proposing a Bald Mountain Stewardship Project to encompass a 7,000-acre area between Warm Springs Road and Greenhorn Gulch, including the roughly 3,000 acres of the ski area, which operates under a special-use permit. Poff said in an interview that treatments could be anything that’s been done in the past or perhaps new ideas that haven’t been tried yet.

Poff said the project would cross boundaries, encompassing all the entities that own or manage the area, including the Forest Service, BLM, Sun Valley Co. and private owners.

Once a proposed action has been developed by the Forest Service for the stewardship project, it will be open to public comment, and public hearings will be scheduled. Poff said those hearings may be as soon as late October or early November.

Following the presentation Monday, members of the audience were handed the microphone to give their thoughts and suggestions.

In response to a question, Poff said the Forest Service has not analyzed the likely future for Baldy if nothing is done to address threats to its trees.

One speaker noted that if a wildfire were to start on the mountain, the economic impact not only to the local communities but to the state as a whole would be drastic.

Dani Southard, Northern Rockies program manager for the National Forest Foundation, said in an interview that Monday’s discussion was the first of a series that will be offered to the community, highlighting “the importance of having the community engaged early on.”

Those wanting to provide their opinions now may send emails to Poff at zachary.poff@usda.gov or send letters to the Ketchum Ranger District, Box 2356, Ketchum, ID 83340. In addition, those who want to be kept abreast of the National Forest Foundation’s efforts may email Southard at dsouthard@nationalforests.org.

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