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Farragut focus of logging concerns

by MADISON HARDY
Hagadone News Network | January 24, 2021 1:00 AM

Logging at Farragut State Park isn't new to some frequent visitors, who worry it will only get worse. 

In 2016, Idaho Fish and Game attempted to preserve Farragut's white pine forest areas by logging 70 acres of the 4,000-acre forest for open space that would allow species to re-establish.

In the 1940s, the Farragut Naval Training Base cleared land to support a workforce of over 75,000 and set up a training and testing site. 

Over the years, there have been various logging restoration projects, park manager Liz Palsini said, near several campgrounds and the viewpoint area. The process is called prescribed logging, a resource preservation technique that thins the tree line in concentrated areas.

However, longtime Bayview resident Mike Lee said it is just an excuse to continue logging. 

"I've been following this for 20 years, and they have used every possible excuse and reason to continue logging the park," Lee said. "We can manage the resources without using commercial and industrial means, but for the most part, they are using high-grading commercial timber machinery on a very large scale and tearing the hell out of everything."

Farragut State Park sees over 500,000 visitors every year. One frequenter, Bayview resident Sheryl Puckett, has also witnessed the loss of trees in the recreational areas, including one several years ago that she believes sparked a fire along the shoreline. 

"The last logging Fish and Game did at the public boat launch resulted in a fire getting away from them and the very trees they were attempting to save, the ponderosa pine, were all badly burned," Puckett said. "This resulted in stressed trees and a very ugly forest. The current logging will result in weeds taking over the area."

Due to Farragut's state park classification, the previously used prescribed burning technique to preserve forest habitat has become out of reach. There are consequences, though, Palsini said, like trees taking over areas they usually wouldn't have been and shade-tolerant trees overcrowding the ponderosa pines. 

"When you stop allowing state parks to burn, all of a sudden, a traditional process that happens every 18 to 20 years no longer happens," Palsini said. 

Instead, prescribed logging has become more common. Palsini said it is much different from commercial logging or clear-cutting areas in the forest. The process has recently been used around Farragut's shoreline and boat ramp as part of a pine beetle project that started in 2018. 

"One of the consequences for the heightened number of shade trees is the pine beetles came in and decimated the area," Palsini said. "These old ponderosas are starting to die, and it's sad."

Pine beetles migrated into Farragut State Park several years ago, and over time, the staff has noticed how their effects have brought disease and death to the park's ponderosa population.

Prescribed logging is a long and infrequent process performed by state parks, Palsini said, usually spread over decades.

Still, Farragut lovers like Lee and Puckett fear the logging is damaging the wildlife habitat the park has provided for centuries. 

"Wildlife needs to have habitat, shelter, and buffers from people," Lee said. "Now there is this completely open forest canopy, and wildlife security is out the window."

Lee said he noticed the pine beetle damage around the boat launch at the park 15 years ago. At that time, there were five or six trees infected. Park staff at that time cut down the trees as part of a ponderosa pine restoration — much like the one happening today. However, Lee said the process then included torching the removed trees and didn't help the issue. 

"The first part of prescription logging is removing those dead pines," Palsini said. "Then we will replant that whole area starting this spring and finishing next spring to refill the trees."

Typically, beetles burrow into the tree's "cambium" layer below the bark, where the majority of cell work and nutrients are held to grow the tree trunk, branches, and roots. By damaging the cambium or digging further into the pines, the beetles can cause secondary infections, Palsini said.

"They start to invade what is like the bloodstream of the tree, where the tree moves the resources it needs to survive," she said. "So the beetles dig in and destroy that tissue and feed on it. Usually, the combined effort of the beetle population takes over the tree, and it dies."

Unfortunately, the beetles will likely never leave the park, Palsini explained, but they tend to act in cycles where the population explodes, weens, and later returns. Resource scientists have yet to find an end-all cure, but managing the trees with long-term efforts like prescribed logging can help.

Palsini thinks the thinning process should be done by the end of winter, and the park will be planning restoration by springtime. The addition of new trees breeds new possibilities for the forest, including preserving wildlife, nurturing the habitat, and aesthetic experience. 

"There are a lot of issues, and there will always be a lot of issues, but the impact is growing dramatically," Lee said. "I'm hopeful that we can bring about a greater awareness of restoration. People love being there, and we need to make sure we have it as a recreational resource for a long time."

Other restoration projects in Farragut's future are meadow work on the north side of the park, invasive species control, and cleaning up the trails following last week's windstorm that knocked down hundreds of trees, Palsini said. 

"We've cleaned up all the winter snow trails, so we're hoping that when the snow hits next week, people will be able to come out and use the park, but there are many trails still closed," she said. 

photo

For decades logging projects at Farragut State Park have aimed to clear areas of the woods for restoration and rehabilitation, but frequent visitors fear the thinning forest won't grow back to its former glory. Photo courtesy Mike Lee.