DIVIDE – Rob Gump looks over the timber on the north side of Mount Fleecer and sees a dead forest.
The timber is heavily interspersed with gray trees that have been killed by insects. Yet, even many of the green trees are doomed to turn red and eventually gray within a couple years, said Gump, a silvaculturalist with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest based in Dillon.
That’s because they’ve already succumbed to the beetles that have ravaged some areas of southwest Montana. “This tree is dead and it doesn’t know it,” Gump said on a recent tour of the Mount Fleecer area while looking at a cut he made into a lodgepole pine, where a couple mountain pine beetles were found. “It’s chewing through the tree. “Make that thousands of trees.
The area is part of the estimated 800,000 acres on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that are infected with the beetles. And the insects that hone in on lodgepole pine are just one of half a dozen species killing trees. Other types of insects target fir or spruce trees. Gump said it’s unrealistic to treat every area with bug kill. But in select areas the Forest Service will remove some of the dead and dying trees to keep them from piling up on the ground. He said there’s a short window of time to get into an area because once the bugs are there, they stay until they’ve decimated trees.
“They’ve been working this particular stand and they’re not done,” he said. “The beetles are going to stay here and work until they basically don’t have a home.”