The Saratoga Sun -

Rejuvenating the forest

Forest Service LaVA project aims to give beetle-damaged forest a jump start in regrowth


April 11, 2018

In July 2017, the United States Forest Service (USFS) began planning for the Landscape and Vegetation Analysis (LaVA) project in response to the mountain pine beetle and spruce bark beetle epidemics that plagued the Medicine Bow National Forest (MBNF) for nearly 20 years. The regeneration of the MBNF may be taking its natural course, but the LaVA project is aimed at helping accelerate that process.

“We’re really looking at the restoration aspect of this and resiliency piece,” said Frank Romero, district ranger for both the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and the Thunder Basin National Grasslands.

Romero added that while the forest had a lot of standing dead material, he encouraged people to really look around.

“I always encourage people ‘If you look up, don’t forget to look down and look around’ because we are getting stands of regeneration coming in already and what we are trying to do is open up those stands a little bit more and get natural regeneration coming in,” said Romero.

One of the first steps to be taken in the LaVA project is stand initiation. As its name implies, stand initiation takes place almost immediately after what is known as a “stand-replacing disturbance”–in this case the beetle epidemics. To aid in the stand initiation, the USFS will be using several different treatment options.

These options include clearcutting to produce a “fully exposed microclimate” that will lead to the development of a new age class of trees, the removal of trees that create an upper canopy and prevent smaller trees from growing in a process known as overstory removal and coppice which removes all of the mature trees from a stand allowing regeneration to occur from sprouts.

“Most of the mature lodgepole has already been taken by the beetle,” Romero said, “Some people may ask ‘Well, if it’s a green tree why are you going to take that as well?’”

According to Romero, if the green or living trees are not taken with the dying or dead trees, they will eventually fall down or blow over. While there may be remaining living trees, they matured with other trees and depend on them to stay upright. Without other mature trees around them, they won’t stay standing.

Another step with the LaVA project for the forest service will be uneven-aged forest management. The focus of this is to remove overstory trees no longer needed for shelter or seed production as well as trees that may be infected by insects or diseases that could pose a threat to other trees in the stand.

“This is providing more opportunity for these younger trees to grow,” said Romero.

The implementation of LaVA is planned to take place over the next 10 to 15 years. While that may seem like a long time to us, on the timeline of a forest it is a much smaller time frame.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is scheduled to be released in May with public input meetings hosted by the USFS to follow. Should things go according to plan, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) will be released at the end of the year in December 2018.


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