Driving along Swan Mountain Road, one might think the county was preparing for a bonfire.
Approximately 30 large piles of bark beetle-chewed lodgepole pine lie in wait as the Forest Service eyes a January date for a control burn of the hazard trees.
Cary Green, a U.S. Forest Service timber management assistant, said other hazard trees closer to homes and businesses are top priorities, while the timber along Swan Mountain will be revisited after the first of the year.
Green said the Forest Service is waiting for the right conditions to conduct a controlled burn in that area.
"Nothing is going to happen until after January when the fire danger is low enough for a control burn," he said. "We've also been waiting for the timber to dry out. In January it's cold enough so the snow doesn't penetrate the pile. The snow keeps a burn manageable, it doesn't soak through wood and as the timber burns, the snow melts off pretty quickly."
After a burn, Green said the area will regenerate naturally.
"We want to get this done quickly to restore the beauty of our national forest lands but there are a lot of factors affecting the removal of hazard trees throughout the county," Green said.
The mountain pine beetle is attracted to distressed trees. Trees can be weakened by overcrowding, disease, and parasites such as dwarf mistletoe and drought conditions.
More than $13 million in stewardship contracts are focused on improving the health of sub-alpine and mountain forests affected by the beetle on portions of the Medicine Bow-Routt and the White River national forests in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado.
"This contract realizes an opportunity for us to achieve critical landscape restoration on the White River National Forest," said White River forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. "It also continues our legacy of sustainable use of wood products from saw logs to biomass for renewable energy."
The two contracts identify projects that will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in two national forests.
The stewardship contracts add to the $100 million the Forest Service directed toward addressing bark beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountain Region since 2010.
The Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service developed a strategy to stem the increasing threats to health and safety from the millions of acres with dead trees due to the beetle epidemic and the emerging spruce beetle epidemic. The strategy focuses on prioritizing hazardous tree removal, working with partners to reduce risks to infrastructure such as power lines, residences and ski areas and providing up-to-date public information as those activities move forward.
Since the mountain pine beetle epidemic began in the late 1990s, more than 1.7 million acres of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine forests on the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River national forests have been affected.
Estimates are that on average approximately 70 to 80 percent of the mature trees have been killed so far.
As the dead trees fall, experts predict an increase in wildfire severity, which would result in a degradation of watersheds and negatively affect municipal water quality and other national forest resources.