Dave Shively: Beetle mania

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Dave Shively

Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com.

I have a hard time getting excited about wood chippers.

The machines instantly trigger the scene of Steve Buscemi's demise in the movie "Fargo" over and over in my head.

I never thought I'd meet anyone with anything close to a passion for wood chippers until I was introduced to Scott Lodwick.

Lodwick came into the Steamboat Pilot & Today building a few weeks ago, fired up about his Morbark 20/36 track chipper, nicknamed "the mountain goat." Lodwick beamed about its 400-horsepower capacity to digest whole trees as if he was the first kid on the block to get a go-cart.

What intrigued me most about Lodwick's enthusiasm was that with the massive chipper by his side, he seemed to genuinely believe in the cowboy crusade he has carved out - man against beetle.

Lodwick, whose niche has become clearing infested trees on private property, certainly will have job security because of the pine beetle epidemic's effects on Routt County's forests. But I was curious if his mission to save the forests was legitimate or quixotic.

After talking with state district forester John Twitchell, it appears the ability to curb the current epidemic is beyond the reach of one man, let alone multiple government agencies.

And while Twitchell admits that Lodwick's business is one effective tool for dealing with infected trees, he doesn't think it's wise to hope we can get ahead of the beetles.

With the "perfect storm" scenario in place for mature lodgepole pines - uniformity in age combined with recent drought stress, Twitchell tells people that if the trend continues, 90 percent of the lodgepoles in the Routt National Forest are going to die. The ones that will be spared are those that are sprayed with chemicals before the beetles get to them.

But spraying and clearing dead trees for fire protection comes at a high cost, so the big-picture battle against the epidemic becomes one akin to a triage scenario - determining where to cut losses and where to focus practical work.

Communities from Gould (Jackson County) to North Routt are beginning to realize that the most progressive tool they can use to protect their mutual safety concerns is through drafting a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The plans prioritize land management according to a community's assets and values, giving state and federal agencies a mandate to allocate resources.

The remote Moffat County town of Greystone was spared from this summer's Thomas Fire after the BLM helped it create a strategic "fuel break" in response to the town's drafted Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

With two Steamboat subdivisions already having drafted plans of their own, people are beginning to see the extent of the problem, moving through the "grieving process" steps of accepting reality and actually doing something about it.

Whether chipping trees to clear fuel or organizing a community's options to act, collaborating the tools at the hands of Lodwick and government agencies seems to be the only hope in an unwinnable war.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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