LAKE COMO — The guys who work for Monture Creek Land Management, the company that’s been contracted by the Bitterroot National Forest to spray insecticide at popular campgrounds this summer in an effort to combat pine beetle infestations, get going at 3:30 a.m. and are drenched in sweat by about 7 a.m. on a typical workday.
Covered head to toe in protective plastic suits and respirator masks, the crews race from tree to tree while hauling hoses and spray guns. At Lake Como campground on Tuesday, their goal was to get the spray 50 feet into the air to cover the upper portion of the trees. The chemical has to cover every square inch of bark on the hundreds of trees they spray every day, or the beetles will find a way to burrow in and destroy the tree.
The work is no picnic. Just ask former University of Montana running back Peter Nguyen, who recently signed on for the job.
“I got pretty beat up playing football, but I think I would rather be at football practice right now,” he said with a grin.
The Bitterroot National Forest has been spraying trees in popular campgrounds and high-use recreation areas with the insecticide Carbaryl to protect them from the mountain pine beetle for the last three years. The first sites to be treated were campgrounds on the West Fork Ranger District on Monday. This year’s program will treat 1,800 trees at six sites at a cost of $25,000.
According to BNF spokesman Tod McKay, when properly applied, Carbaryl is 99 percent to 100 percent effective at protecting trees for the first year following application. It is mixed with water and Verbenone, a pheromone, which communicates via smell with the beetles and discourages them from attacking trees. It is applied with a high-powered, truck-mounted sprayer to the bark of the tree.
However, to maximize effectiveness, the chemical will not be sprayed on rainy or windy days and will not be used near open water or wetland areas. That has caused some problems this week, as wind on Tuesday and rain on Wednesday forced the contractors to shut down the spraying operations so as not to waste the expensive chemicals.
“We are dealing with that, because it involves campground closures,” said Bitterroot Forest planning officer Jerry Krueger. “We are going to be a day behind. It will have a cascading effect on closures during the week, but not over the weekend. The campgrounds will be open on the weekends. We were hoping to be done this week, but with the wind and now the rain we’re going to be behind.”
The spraying will resume the week of June 24, weather permitting. The campgrounds and some of the day use sites within the Lake Como Recreation Area will be closed next week. Indian Trees and Spring Gulch Campgrounds on the Sula Ranger District will also be closed during the Carbaryl application.
The boat launch and beach area at Lake Come will remain open during the week.
According to a statement from McKay, the purpose of protecting trees in selected high-value sites is to maintain aesthetic quality and recreation value, and also reduce public safety hazards. To be effective, the spraying must occur prior to the beetle’s annual dispersal flight which typically begins in July.
The Bitterroot National Forest is experiencing increasing tree mortality from the mountain pine beetle that is present at epidemic levels over sections of the Northern Region. Last year, the BNF sprayed more than 2,100 susceptible, large ponderosa pine trees with Carbaryl. Hazardous and infested trees were also removed from a dozen popular campgrounds on the Sula and West Fork Ranger Districts along with thinning 300 acres at the Lost Trail ski area.
Contact the Darby Ranger Station at 821-3913 or the Sula Ranger Station at 821-3201 for updates on the closures.