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Jim Rineholt Interview
Jim Rineholt is a forester with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. For the past decade he and the Forest Service have been dealing with the pine beetle infestation that has devastated the lodgepole pine forests of the West. Bruce Reichert conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.
What exactly have you been doing in response to the pine beetle infestation?
And so in some camp grounds we're actually going back in and thinning, because they are becoming so thick and dense, which is typical of lodgepole pine. So we're trying to think ahead and keep those trees healthy so they are less susceptible to mountain pine beetle attacks as they get older.
"What we're seeing is pretty unprecedented. I always say, it's a bad time to be a tree right now with climate change."The Sawtooth NRA is essentially lodgpole pine, right?
Lodgepole pine will grow up to 200 years old when it reaches maturity, but in most parts of the forest here, they are either between 80 to 120 years and that seems to be about as long as they'll grow. And it's either fire has gone through or else mountain pine beetles have taken them out.
How does a mountain pine beetle do its dirty work?
So the bark beetles will lay their eggs and the larvae will hatch. They feed crossways just underneath the inner bark, in what we call the phloem, which disrupts the food from the needles to the roots. The bark beetles actually spend most of their life cycle in underneath the bark of the tree. And then they'll merge again the following summer — usually about the first of July — and they'll emerge and look for new trees to attack and continue the cycle.
When the mountain pine beetle reaches epidemic levels like we've had, then even healthy trees can be attacked; whereas, normally in low levels where there are not too many bark beetles, the trees will be able to usually survive and pitch them out. And sometimes they will be successful underneath the bark; they will only go maybe 2 or 3 inches before they eventually just run out of steam and die from all the sap and the water.
But once a tree is successfully attacked, there's nothing you can do?
Just about every western state has been impacted by the mountain pine beetles, and Canada too. So what we're seeing is pretty unprecedented. I always say, it's a bad time to be a tree right now with climate change. it just enabled them to really explode in population, especially in the higher elevations and our white bark pine eco-systems. It usually takes about 2 years for them to produce the next brood, but because of the longer, hotter summers, they've been able to do that in one year.
So the populations up in the higher elevations have actually been able to really explode, so we've seen quite a bit of mortality in the white bark pine, which is considered a sensitive species to wildlife. Some of those trees were up to 800 to 1000 years old. So it is alarming to see those trees just in one summer be taken out. We've started collecting cones, and we're growing new seedlings now in the nurseries; and for the first time we actually went up and planted some seedlings up at the head of 4th of July Creek where we had a large burn up there in 2005. And we're going to be repeating those efforts to try to restore that eco-system.
Explain the pheromone patches and how they work.
Isn't it tricky to thin lodgepole pine?
Does the public understand the need to thin lodgepole pine before a wildfire takes them out?
It's always dynamic, always changing, and the big thing with infestation is that it just happens at once, and that's what became very upsetting to the public. And then they realize that, hey, maybe I do need to cut some trees for defensible space, because it is getting harder and harder to fight fires. And they're more intense than we've ever seen before.