Beetle-killed timber removal on the Medicine Bow National Forest is ongoing, and much of the material removed from the Sierra Madres under a 15-year forest management plan covering southeastern Wyoming has been used as forest products.

In a recent virtual workshop on its Landscape Vegetation Analysis (LaVA) project, Matt Schweich with the National Forest explained that early implementation zones are located near Encampment and include the Buck, West Hog, Panda, Acorn and Spool areas in the Sierra Madres.

“Basically, where we are at is the ‘forest products’ phase,” Schweich said.

The LaVA is a landscape-scale project approved in 2020, designed to create a healthier forest after the devastating effects of a mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle infestation on Wyoming’s national forests.

The Wyoming Statewide Forestry Division reports that beetles have damaged more forested areas than any other pests in Wyoming, killing more than 4 million acres over the past 20 years.

The LaVA project decision authorizes “flexible management of forest vegetation,” according to the Forest Service, allowing for removal and utilization of beetle-killed timber while it is still marketable. The ultimate goal is to mitigate fire risk, especially near communities.

Many people think of lumber and firewood when it comes to forest products, but the category also includes sawlogs, pulpwood, biomass, other round wood products and firewood, as well as “special forest products” like as medicinal herbs, fungi and edible fruits and nuts, according to the Forest Service.

In the implementation zones near Encampment, Schweich said other treatment options were identified under the LaVA, including fuels reduction and recreation and wildlife habitat restoration. Those may be implemented in the coming years.

Steve Kozlowski, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service and the LaVA implementation coordinator, explained that the LaVA is a large-scale project decision that was finalized in August 2020 by the Forest Service after three years of planning and public input. It’s designed to address forest health issues on the Medicine Bow National Forest and provides an environmental foundation for forest treatments on a maximum of 288,000 acres spread over a 15-year time frame.

Treatments began in fall 2020.

“The project is still going on, and it is going strong. In fact, you might even say it is gearing up and getting more refined as we go,” Kozlowski said. “I personally think it is a very good project … in terms of working together and how we manage natural resources on the ground and how we conserve those resources.”

After the Mullen Fire burned 176,000 acres from September to November 2020, the Forest Service paused implementation in areas affected by the fire to assess the impacts on LaVA objectives.

In August 2021, the process found that the project’s treatments would “remain within the scope and range of the effects considered in the environmental impact statement, despite changes caused by the fire.”

Britt Heath of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said that her agency has been primarily concerned with animal habitat during the LaVA process, citing that habitat enhancements from forest management could affect southeastern Wyoming’s Platte Valley, Baggs and Sheep Mountain mule deer herds.

“Wyoming Game and Fish has a couple mule deer initiative herds that fall within the LaVA area, and so those have been a strong priority for us,” Heath said. “A lot of our projects are really focused on trying to look at habitat enhancements for wildlife, particularly in these mule deer herds. We have been very excited to participate in this.”

Treatments in the preliminary design phase, specifically in the Troublesome area, will focus primarily on wildlife habitat as opposed to timber products.

Leanne Correll with the Saratoga Encampment Rawlins Conservation District, said that at times she’s wondered how the process would work on the ground while in the planning stages.

Though additional strategies for managing the beetle kill devastation may be necessary, Correll said that two years in, she believes the strategy is working.

“This is a process to go through, but (it) is working,” Correll said. “The Mullen Fire really has tested this to the max as far as seeing how we can adapt.”

One of the main reasons for the meeting was to gather public input on the project, Kozlowski said.

For more information or to comment on the project, visit the Additional resources are available on social media @FS_MBRTB on Twitter or @FSMBRTB on Facebook.

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