The NWTF, along with federal, state and local partners in the Black Hills/Pine Ridge focal landscape, continue projects originally aimed at mitigating the mountain pine beetle epidemic to enhance overall wildlife habitat and forest resiliency in the Wyoming Black Hills.
The NWTF has worked with the Weston County Forest Stand Improvement Program for several years to complete these types of projects. The Weston County Natural Resource District administers the program, and a Wyoming State Forestry Division grant helps fund it.
In order to tame the mountain pine beetle epidemic, crews used aerial surveillance to pinpoint infected stands and removed infected trees. By 2016, the program proved successful, and the mountain pine beetle’s presence in Wyoming returned to endemic levels. With the epidemic behind them, partners decided to appropriate funding to make the region’s forests more resilient against future and inevitable mountain pine beetle infestations.
“When the epidemic ended in 2016, WCNRD started using the funding for preventive practices, such as pre-commercial thinning projects on private lands,” said Austin Sommerville, NWTF forester in Wyoming. “In 2017, we treated 579 acres, 533 acres in 2018 and 221 acres in 2020. This will substantially benefit these stands from future infestations by improving overall forest health.”
The NWTF cooperative forester continues to contribute to forest and wildlife habitat efforts in Wyoming through an NRCS grant in collaboration with the Wyoming State Forestry Division and Conservation Districts from Weston, Campbell and Crook counties.
“These projects are part of the Northeast Wyoming Forest Resiliency Project,” Sommerville said. “This project was awarded $1,285,540 to cost-share forest management on private lands in the three partnering counties.”
Projects included pre-commercial thinning, which reduces competition and increases growth rates of residual trees, and meadow restoration, which removes encroaching trees from historic meadows. Both practices improve the health of the forest and increase habitat diversity for the wildlife that inhabit it.
“The NWTF’s ability to work with various partners to benefit both public and private land has made a significant impact on the overall forest health in the state of Wyoming,” Sommerville said. “I look forward to keeping the momentum and seeing what we can accomplish in the years to come.”