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Despite reduced beetle kill, state forester forecasts a heavy fire season

Wyoming forest officials anticipate another heavy fire season for this year.

Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser says recent warm winters have been great for the pine beetle population. He adds that Wyoming pine forests are full of densely-packed stands with trees of the same age, which makes them especially vulnerable to beetles, and that makes them more likely to burn.

The spread of beetle-killed trees slowed in 2012. That’s according to an aerial forest health survey conducted by the USDA Forest Service and the Wyoming State Forestry Division. The Mountain Pine Beetle killed about 719-thousand acres in 2011, but the spread of affected forest dropped to 180-thousand new acres in 2012.

“One of the main reasons for that is in several parts of the state, the mountain pine beetle expanded so quickly over so many years, they’ve basically run out of food,” Crapser says.

Crapser says beetle killed trees are most vulnerable to wildfires before their needles fall off and again after the trees fall to the ground. He adds that ongoing drought conditions could bring about another season of rampant wildfires in the region.

Crapser says that the cycle of beetle kill and fires will repeat itself in 100 years if the state doesn’t implement an active forest management plan.

“Part of that would be utilizing fire to get an age-class mosaic out there on the landscape so you don’t see huge landscape impacts of either fire or beetles in the future.”

Crapser advises people to be very careful when lighting fires this spring and summer.

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