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Governor says Wyoming forests need more attention

The deteriorating condition of Wyoming's forests shows the state needs more federal funding for forest projects, said Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The deteriorating condition of Wyoming's forests shows the state needs more federal funding for forest projects, said Gov. Dave Freudenthal.

Freudenthal said Tuesday he was concerned about the condition of the forest he saw this month while on a pack trip with state game wardens into the remote Thorofare region, on the southern edge of Yellowstone National Park.

"Even in those areas where the trees didn't get hit really bad by the forest fires, they're getting hit really bad by the beetle," Freudenthal said. "And between drought, disease and the beetle, the forests need serious management help."

Earlier this summer, Freudenthal criticized the U.S. Department of Agriculture for giving millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for forest projects in neighboring states but not Wyoming. The federal agency has defended its actions, saying Wyoming's low unemployment rate meant it didn't qualify for help.

Tom Vilsack, USDA secretary, this month announced that Wyoming forests will receive nearly $6.4 million in the agency's final round of stimulus funding.

Freudenthal welcomes the money but says forests in the state need more.

"Anybody that's driven the state knows that each year we end up with more and more beetle kill," Freudenthal said. "For an awful lot of these forests now, it's not a question if they're going to burn, but when they burn."

Freudenthal said much of the federal money directed toward forest issues has gone to fight large fires in recent years, leaving limited funding for routine forest management in Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states.

While it's never possible to predict what sort of fire season the nation will experience, Freudenthal said, "you do know that from one year to the next you ought to be doing forest planning; you ought to be doing work on fuels management in terms of that; you ought to be doing work on making the forests usable and accessible to people. That you know — and you ought to be budgeting for that separately."

Freudenthal said Wyoming may need to work with its congressional delegation to seek direct federal funding to address forest health issues.

Bill Crapser, Wyoming state forester, said the federal stimulus money coming to Wyoming will mainly go to reduce the danger of wildfires in areas where communities are bordered by federal land.

"With the beetle kill and just overall forest conditions and overall the amount of building and expansion we've seen in the wildland interface, we see a larger potential of fires with the potential of destroying homes and property," Crapser said.

The fire season has been mild in Wyoming so far this year.

"We still could see some significant fires, but every day that goes by, the burning period is shorter, the nights are cooler, and the humidity is coming up," Crapser said. "I don't see any huge potential for fires in the next few weeks."

The $6.4 million will fund two Wyoming projects on state and private lands, Crapser said. The first project, funded at nearly $1.4 million, will create fuel breaks on about 500 acres in Teton County. The second project, costing $540,000, will construct fuel breaks on about 1,500 acres in Fremont County.

The rest of the money will fund projects on National Forest lands. They include the following:

_ $2 million for wildland fire management on the Bighorn National Forest in Big Horn County. The work will focus on removing hazardous fuels from around summer cabins and lodges.

_ $1.4 million for various projects to remove fuels from about the Wind River drainage in Fremont County.

_ $700,000 for work in Johnson County to move a campground away from Hunter Creek to reduce water pollution.

_ $250,000 to improve the Island Lake Campground in Park County.

_ $100,000 to remove dead and dying trees from the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River drainage, near Lander in Fremont County.