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Timber Harvesting, Bark Beetles, and the Battle for the Health of Montana’s Forests

Timber harvesting is a vital tool for forest management. When applied strategically and sustainably, timber harvesting can contribute to the health and safety of our forests, communities, and the environment.

One of the ways timber harvesting can protect the health of Montana’s forests is by strategically removing dead and diseased trees to stop the spread of damaging bacteria, fungi, and insect infestations.

Recent drought conditions have left forests throughout the northwest particularly vulnerable to disease and pests. One pest in particular, bark beetles, have ravaged forests from Colorado to British Columbia in recent years.

The USDA Forest Service annually conducts Aerial Detection Surveys (ADS) across the US to detect the location and severity of forest health issues. In 2022, approximately 27 million acres were surveyed in Montana. One of the threats identified by the survey was the Douglas-fir Beetle, a type of bark beetle that has damaged more than 41,000 acres of forest. (Montana DNRC 2022 Forest Health Highlights)

Bark beetles are a severe problem in Montana's forests. These tiny insects can kill millions of trees in a short period, and their impact on the state's economy and environment is significant. Dead trees can increase the risk of wildfires and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Timber harvesting is one of the main ways to manage bark beetle infestations. By removing dead and dying trees, timber harvesters can help to prevent the spread of beetles and reduce the risk of wildfires.

Here are some of the ways that timber harvesting can be used to manage bark beetle infestations:

· Salvage logging: This type of logging removes dead and dying trees that are

infested with bark beetles. This helps prevent the beetle spread and reduce the

risk of wildfires.


· Thinning: This type of logging removes some of the trees in a stand, which

helps to improve air circulation and reduce the stress on the remaining trees.

This can make the trees less susceptible to bark beetle infestations.

· Pre-emptive logging: This type of logging removes trees that are at risk of

being infested with bark beetles. This can help to prevent large-scale

infestations from occurring.


It is important to note that timber harvesting is not always the best way to manage bark beetle infestations. In some cases, other methods, such as prescribed burning or biological controls, may be more effective.

The bark beetle problem in Montana is complex and there is no easy solution. However, by working together, timber harvesters, foresters, landowners, and conservationists can manage the outbreak and protect the state's forests.

The Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) offers a Forest Pest Management Program to assist landowners and resource managers identify and manage forest insects and diseases. To learn more about the program, visit https://dnrc.mt.gov/Forestry/Forest-Management/forest-insects-and-diseases.

Montana timber harvesters are dedicated stewards of our state’s forests. They are committed to responsible forest management practices to ensure generations of healthy forests for future Montanans.

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