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Wyoming district and partners work to reduce fuel loads

Campbell County Conservation District (CD) is partnering with the Wyoming State Forestry Division and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to address two key issues: thinning forests to make stands more resilient to insects and diseases, such as the mountain pine beetle, and reducing fuel loads to restrict wildfire damage and improve wildlife habitat.

“When we collaborate, we’re able to manage these larger landscapes so when a fire comes through – when it gets to the area with less ladder fuel – it will lay down and will be closer to the ground,” Campbell County Conservation District Manager Jennifer Hinkhouse said.

In 2015, the conservation district began talking with Wyoming State Forestry Division, Wyoming Game and Fish and the BLM about projects the district was working on to explore partnership opportunities. Campbell County CD received funding through a state appropriation administered by the State Forestry Division to conduct management in beetle infested areas or in areas that had a high potential for infestation.

“Most people forget about the forests in Campbell County since they are about an hour drive from town,” Hinkhouse said. “Many of the forests have not received any thinning or harvest in the past 30 years and were in need of management. With the help of state funding and assistance of partners, we were able to put forest conservation on the ground.”

Those funds led to forest stand improvement projects on private land in northern Campbell County. The conservation district worked with a private landowner, the state and BLM to coordinate efforts. The conservation district worked with BLM on areas to receive thinning where BLM had or was going to implement vegetative treatments on their adjacent property. They also coordinated with the state on performing vegetative treatments adjacent to timber sales and thinning projects on adjacent state lands. Once thinning was completed on these projects, the Campbell County CD conducted various slash treatments, which included lop and scatter, chipping and piling. For areas that had been piled, BLM worked with landowners to assist in burning in order to reduce fuel loads on the nearly 200 acres.

“We removed some smaller trees, reduced ladder fuels, and not only increased the overall health of that forest stand, but also decreased our potential for catastrophic fire,” Hinkhouse said.

The following year, another project began on private property near state land and adjacent to BLM property. Campbell County CD worked with the landowner to thin out their trees for improved forest health. With the assistance of BLM on final slash treatment, the landowner was able to treat about 122 acres.

“We have fires every year, but we never know where they’re going to hit,” Hinkhouse said. “Many are started by lightning. With the remoteness of some of these areas, it is extremely important we address our fuel loads and forest health. There’s a desire by both the landowners and the agencies to make sure these areas are defensible when future wildfires strike.”

Campbell County CD hopes to wrap up a third project this spring, with 16 acres remaining from a 220-acre project site. When completed, the collaborative effort will have treated nearly 550 acres.

The result is better forest stands for all.

“When you thin out a stand, it’s easier for wildlife to move through, there’s more forage available, there’s all kinds of benefits, and I think that’s why the collaboration works so well,” Hinkhouse said. “They all see it from their own perspective, but in the end we all have a united goal.”

For more stories like this, check out NACD’s Forestry Notes.

Tags: Forestry Notes

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