LaVA to cut into Snowy Mountain Range

A side road leads to the Little Laramie trailhead in the Snowy Range. The Forest Service is making plans to aid in the regeneration of the forest over the next 10 to 15 years. (Photo by Hannah Fox)

The Forest Service’s most recent environmental analysis movement focuses on the Snowy Mountain Range and parts of Albany and Carbon County and aims to open the door to commercial logging, fire prevention and thinning of trees on nearly 613,000 acres of land.

Also coined as LaVA (Landscape Vegetation Analysis), the project will span over the next ten to fifteen years. During that time, there will be mechanical treatments to remove dead trees in attempts to speed up the regeneration process of the forest.

“We’re trying to address existing forest conditions and those forest conditions are that we have lots of dead, dying trees due to the bark beetle epidemic that came through, both spruce beetle and mountain pine beetle and what we’re trying to do is expedite our environmental analysis,” Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Aaron Voos said.

The logging and analysis to take place will strive to circumvent present and future concerns with the hazardous fuel lying in the forest caused by the damage from bark beetles, while also working with the lumber industry.

“There’s not a great market for beetle kill wood right now, so if it’s purely for financial reasons, I’m not sure that’s justifiable,” Professor Daniel Tinker, whose field is forest and fire ecology, said. “If it’s for fire suppression or changing fire behavior, I’m not sure if the science is behind that either.”

In Tinker’s studies, he has tracked natural cycles of bark beetle destruction through thousands of years. They are native insects to the forest and are prevalent in the ecosystem. The bark beetle epidemic that began during the late 1990s inspired the LaVA project.

“Before this happened, nobody was really worried about bark beetles, even though they’ve been here for thousands and thousands of years killing trees,” Tinker said. “Nobody was worried about it, but now [people] just saw the effect of it and it [was alarming] that they could kill that many trees.”

Tinker stressed that the activities and destruction of the bark beetles is part of a natural thinning in forests that happens regardless. Bark beetles are a reality throughout the evolution of the forests.

Active forest management to contain the bark beetle problem is what the Forest Service is hoping to do.

“We’re proposing to do prescribed fire, timber sales, thinning and mastication (which is a fuel reduction treatment method) to let us address the forest issues we have right now,” said Voos.

The Forest Service recognizes that natural regeneration of the forest is indeed happening, but they feel as though a man-made effort will lead to a decrease of risk for local communities, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitats and the timber industry.

“Logging in and of itself in lodgepole forests is not a terrible thing necessarily; lodgepole forests can regenerate pretty readily after a logging movement,” said Tinker.

Part of the proposal is the construction of 600 miles of road to be built in the Snowies. This will allow for companies to clear the dead wood, as well as the viable lumber for the industry.

The logging of the forest is a topic that will affect people such as biology education major Brock Teichert, who has logged dead wood for carpentry in his occupation for over a year. His concern is that the Forest Service could make the process simpler for themselves while encouraging others to assist in the logging process.

“I feel like, instead of us buying permits to go get that wood, don’t make us pay anything,” Teichert said. “Pay us a little bit to go clean out your forest and don’t worry about all this other stuff.”

Beyond the logging aspect, the fact that there will be this amount of mileage added into the Snowy Range will cause changes for the community, especially as it appears that it will range over 350,000 acres of land, which constitutes one-third of the forest.

“It’s going to affect people; where they go camping, their hunting and [this project is] going to chase off a lot of the animals,” said Teichert. “I think it’s a big decision that should involve the people.”

Recreational impacts have come up as a point of concern, but Voos reiterated that this movement will allow many state programs and people to benefit from the project.

“From a recreation standpoint, we feel this will be beneficial because a lot of the work that has been done and will continue to be done, will be in areas that people like to recreate,” Voos said.

With all of the concerns and questions from those who are hearing about this project for the first time, Voos advises they direct their questions about LaVA and Medicine Bow to the Forest Service.

“Everyone is hearing different things and coming at this from a different angle … we have answers to all of those,” said Voos. “People may not agree with them and that’s okay; it happens with all of our projects. But we do want to make sure that people understand where we’re coming from, with perspective to those things. We want people to be engaged with this project.”

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