Falling tree risk near Dubois prompts campground closure

Jun 10, 2014 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Shoshone National Forest officials are unsure when the two areas will reopen to campers, though fishing, hiking and other recreation is allowed in the region.

Public safety forced the Shoshone National Forest to close the Brooks Lake and Pinnacles campgrounds 25 miles northwest of Dubois, officials said. Surrounding areas, however, are still open for fishing, hiking and other recreation.

More than 200 standing dead trees in the area killed by spruce beetles could fall over, posing a hazard to campers, said forest spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann. Sleeping campers are especially at risk because they are unaware of their surroundings, she said.

"Once we discovered the issue last fall we wanted to keep our campers and anyone recreating in the area safe," Salzmann said.

Forest officials do not know when the campgrounds will reopen.

The forest think the dead trees have commercial value and plan to put a contract out to bid this month to log them. Officials expect logging could begin in August, but without knowing who will do the work, they cannot know when it will be finished or when the area will be safe again, Salzmann said.

"The risk of a tree falling and injuring a camper is far too high," she said. "Since 2009, the Wind River Ranger District has actively removed over 500 dead and dying trees that posed an increased risk to campers from falling over."

So far, the forest has not recorded a falling tree hitting anyone, according to a release.

The area could close more types of recreation during logging activities, she said.

Brooks Lake Campground has 13 sites and the Pinnacles Campground has 21.

Some nearby camping options are still open. The Falls Campground, about five miles away, is still open and has 54 sites. Dispersed camping also is allowed in the Brooks Lake area, but Salzmann urged caution.

"That is all personal discretion. If they're not in a campground, we cannot keep them from any area, but at that point it is their own personal judgment," she said.

Salzmann recommended avoiding areas with beetle-killed trees. Several factors can help in identifying such trees, but few are guaranteed.

One good sign is if the tree has toppled over, Salzmann said. Others are a lack of growth on the tree, dead needles, visible rot or peeling or dying bark.

Reports from Colorado State University give additional signs of a spruce beetle infestation. One is orange boring dust around the base of the tree or in crevices in the bark. Another is tubes of sap protruding from bore holes. Woodpeckers hunting for the beetles also often cause the bark to flake off and fall around the base of the tree.

"They all add together. Anyone that's going to do any backcountry or dispersed camping has to take their own actions and judgments into account and be responsible for their own decisions," Salzmann said.

Wind can increase the danger and make falling trees more likely, she warned.

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