The forest that provides the backbone for Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area is dying and must be replaced, the Boise National Forest said Tuesday in a news release and video unveiling plans to deal with the problem.
“The entire forest up there is dying,” said Stephaney Kerley, the ranger for the Mountain Home District of the forest. “... If we don’t do something right now, Mother Nature is going to take care of it for us.”
A combination of dwarf mistletoe, which weakens trees and kills them slowly, and bark beetles, which swarm the weakened trees and kill them quickly, has decimated the trees at Bogus Basin. More than half of the Douglas fir trees are infected, Kerley said, and they’ll be replaced with other species to avoid the same disease.
The plan calls for logging, which will begin in the summer of 2017. The job could take up to three years but also could be accomplished in one year, depending on the capacity of the company that wins the bid, Kerley said.
Some off-trail portions of the ski area will be closed while the new trees grow to a size that can withstand the abuse of skiers and snowboarders.
“The actual skiability of the mountain will change very little,” Bogus Basin General Manager Brad Wilson said. “If we lose some terrain that’s skied frequently, we’ll pick it up in accelerated brush-cutting. Our intent is not to lose any skiable acres but to potentially move some over and shift it around.”
The mistletoe-beetle combination is a problem in other portions of the Boise National Forest in the area. The Bogus Basin project was prioritized because of how many people use the area and the potential safety implications of having weakened trees covered with heavy snow, Kerley said.
“Insect and disease issues are all over the forest,” she said. “Why we’re concentrating effort in these areas is because that’s where the people are. The hazard to the people is greater in this area. If it was happening somewhere else in the forest, very secluded, we would do probably very different actions. We would cut probably more trees, do a more extreme first entry than we’ll be doing at Bogus Basin, because of the fact we have to maintain a viable recreation area.”
The trees provide an essential windbreak and shade on the mountain, which helps keep snow spread across the ski area and allows it to stay longer.
“A mountain without trees, it’s a mountain with a lot of rock showing and a lot of thin areas,” Wilson said. “It can have a real negative impact on the amount of snow you actually capture on the ground. (Trees) are a very valuable resource to the actual ski product.”
The problems at Bogus Basin aren’t new, Kerley said. The Boise National Forest has tried to address the issues before but never could get enough public support. This time, the cities of Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Garden City and Star are on-board.
The sticking point in the past was log trucks driving down Bogus Basin Road and through those towns.
“We’re getting a better reception on the project overall, and I think it’s because we can demonstrate how critical the situation is,” Kerley said. “We are still receiving some feedback that the logging trucks going through the city is not going to be looked on favorably.”
Other notes from Kerley:
▪ For several years, the Boise National Forest crew has been cutting hazardous trees before the winter. The trees are piled up at Bogus Basin because it wasn’t a logging operation.
▪ Dwarf mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives under the bark and directs nutrients to the infected branches. The worst-infected trees will die soon, she said, but others could live for a long time. The plan is to remove the worst trees now and the others over time. If all of the infected trees were removed at once, she said, there wouldn’t be a forest left. The whole process will play out over decades.
▪ Dwarf mistletoe is species-specific. The infection in the Douglas fir is far worse than in the ponderosa pine. “If we plant a different species, it disrupts that disease cycle,” Kerley said. “Then you can get a handle on that dwarf-mistletoe infestation over time. Eventually, many decades from now, we hope we can go back in and replant the Douglas fir.”
▪ The Douglas fir at Bogus Basin are infected at rates ranging from 50 to 98 percent, depending on the area, she said.
▪ The ponderosa pine is overcrowded and will be thinned to reduce the bark-beetle problem, she said.
▪ Dwarf mistletoe can take decades to kill a tree. However, a weakened tree fell onto an operating lift at Bogus Basin in the 1990s.
▪ You can spot a tree with dwarf mistletoe by looking for those with dead patches at the top and thick, deformed branches in the middle, creating a “witch’s broom” look. Those extra-large branches are hogging all the nutrients because of the infection. Once you know what you’re looking at, Kerley and Wilson say, you’ll see disease everywhere. “It’s really hard to see a healthy tree up there right now because there aren’t many,” Kerley said.
▪ The logging operation will fund the rehab efforts and removal of other hazard trees.
▪ The logging operation is expected to include 4.5 million to 5 million board feet of wood.