Although 80% of the trees at Bogus Basin are infected with an invasive dwarf mistletoe, the nonprofit ski resort isn’t about to lose 80% of its trees.

Instead, a five-year forest health restoration project that’s bringing together the U.S. Forest Service, the state Department of Lands, and an array of public and private stakeholders will remove about 20% to 30% of the trees, replant with a more resilient species, conduct controlled burning, and generally make the forest in the area healthier and safer for recreationists.

“The timber at the end of the day is really just a byproduct of addressing the health and hazards on the landscape,” said Clint VanZile, Boise National Forest timber program manager.

Bogus Basin tree removal

Clint VanZile, Boise National Forest timber program manager, explains the need to remove unhealthy trees from the forest at Bogus Basin, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. 

Logging work started this week and will continue in phases into the fall and beyond.

“We’re definitely not going to complain about getting more skiable terrain,” said Brad Wilson, Bogus Basin general manager. But long term, he said, the real benefit will be to “make sure we have a healthy forest for years to come.”

Wilson said Bogus Basin may have some closures or restrictions on some portions of trails at times for the work, but its popular “Around the Mountain” mountain bike trail will continue to allow through traffic for hikers, equestrians and bikers, by shifting segments where necessary onto nearby cat tracks higher on the mountain.

The phased project will result in no more than five loads a day by log-laden logging trucks traveling down Bogus Basin Road and Harrison Boulevard through Boise’s North End, Wilson said — which isn’t a lot.

“You’d have to pay particular attention to really notice it,” he said.

Bogus Basin tree removal

A section of Bogus Basin forest being cleared of unhealthy trees, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. The trees are being taken down as a result of an infestation of an invasive species of mistletoe that deprives the trees of water and nutrients.

RESTORATION

Located in the Boise National Forest, the landscape at and around Bogus Basin is dominated by Douglas fir trees, in part because of historic fire suppression efforts that created brushy conditions where the shade-tolerant firs thrived. That’s made the forest easy prey for the Douglas fir dwarf mistletoe, which creeps under the bark of the trees and grows into dense clumps of branches called “brooms.”

The mistletoe deprives the trees of water and nutrients, weakening them so that they fall victim to insects and disease, including the Douglas fir bark beetle, which feeds on and can kill already-weakened fir trees. Some trees that have been infected can recover; others are too far gone.

The clump-laden, disfigured firs are easily visible across the ski resort, some in various stages of dying. And the dead brooms can fall suddenly, especially under snow loads — endangering skiers or others passing by. Some of the worst ones are on or near ski runs, lifts or trails.

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Bogus Basin tree removal

An invasive species of mistletoe weighs down a tree in Bogus Basin, Wednesday.

Those critical safety hazards are being targeted first. Work started this week on an initial, 133-acre unit, mostly near the resort’s Nordic trails and the Superior chairlift on the backside of the mountain.

Next up, starting in September, will be a unit that includes the Deer Point chairlift area on the front side of the mountain and areas surrounding it, extending south along Bogus Basin Road.

PARTNERSHIP

The Bogus Basin Forest Health Project had long been in the works, but when the forest issued its official decision to launch it in December of 2016, U.S. Forest Service officials were busy with the huge Pioneer Fire in the Idaho City and Lowman areas. That included lots of hazardous tree mitigation work that stretched into 2017.

So, forest officials turned to the Idaho Department of Lands.

Under the Good Neighbor Authority program in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Forest Service can partner with state agencies to get projects done on national forest lands. State lands agency can also conduct timber sales and other operations in national forests.

“(IDL) had the capacity to help us address some of the work up here,” VanZile, with the Forest Service, said. That includes identifying treatment areas and marking trees for removal. “They’re getting stuff done out here on the ground,” he said, “and we’re pretty excited about that.”

Wilson enthusiastically agreed, calling out, “Ditto!”

Bogus Basin tree removal

Trees in the Bogus Basin forest marked with blue paint rings are planned for removal, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. The trees are being taken down as a result of an invasive species of mistletoe that deprives the trees of water and nutrients.

IDL tried to market the project as a commercial timber sale, but there were no bidders, said George Neusse, the department’s Good Neighbor Authority program specialist. That’s because the area consists of a series of small sales in steep terrain, and much of the timber that will be cut isn’t highly valuable for commercial use. The mistletoe, snow loads and insect damage have twisted and deformed the dying trees; about 70% of the wood sold will likely end up as firewood, while the rest will be sawlogs or made into plywood.

So the department arranged a direct sale with a logger who’d been doing work in the area on private land and had the necessary equipment.

The whole project involves close coordination between an array of parties, from the Boise Forest Coalition, a collaborative group that provided input; to the Ada County Highway District, which is involved with lane restrictions or flagging on Bogus Basin Road; to the Ridge to Rivers Trails system, which has mountain bike trails at the resort.

The Bogus Basin project is the second Good Neighbor Authority collaboration between the Department of Lands and the Boise National Forest. Statewide, 26 such projects in four national forests have been identified, including five in which timber already has been sold.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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