Beetle Activity on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is experiencing significant beetle activity, reaching epidemic levels in some areas particularly on the North Slope of the Uinta Mountains.  407,300 acres are affected across the Forest.  See map for distribution. 

Beetle Outbreaks require more awareness on the part of Forest visitors. Go to safety information to learn more.

Several beetle species outbreaks are progressing at various stages across the Forest. The Evanston-Mountain View and Kamas- Heber Ranger Districts are experiencing a significant epidemic, where Mountain Pine Beetle populations have killed up to 90% of trees within infected stands.   Mountain pine beetles are also beginning to infest lodgepole pine stands on the east sides of the Ogden and Logan Districts. In addition, spruce beetles are accumulating in large numbers of trees on the Heber Ranger District and populations are rapidly building on the Salt Lake Ranger District. On the Pleasant Grove and Spanish Fork Districts, the fir engraver (a type of beetle) populations are on the rise within fir stands. If current trends continue, the outbreaks may reach epidemic levels. 

The beetle outbreak has consequences for both human activities and natural sytems, such as:

  • Increased wildfire hazards to communities and key watersheds, especially during high-risk periods when recently killed trees still hold their red needles
  • Safety hazards from falling dead trees
  • Impaired timber values
  • Reduced aesthetic (visual) values as dying trees turn red and brown
  • Interference to roads and power lines
  • Less privacy and shade at campgrounds and other high-use areas with beetle activity
  • Creation of new ecosystem opportunities

The outbreak occurring on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is part of a larger outbreak of western bark beetles occurring across the west. Western bark beetles are made up of a complex of about a dozen different species of beetles causing nearly 8 million acres of mortality in 2008.

Beetle Activity and Dynamic Ecosystems

Beetle activity is a natural part of the environment that periodically builds up to epidemic levels capable of killing large numbers of lodgepole pine, spruce, and other forest trees.  The last epidemic occurred in the early 1980s and, historically, beetle epidemics cycle through every 20 to 30 years. The current epidemic differs from those recorded in the past, however, as the scale is significantly greater. The increased magnitude is believed to be caused by extended drought, warmer winters, and fire suppression activities in the early-to-mid-20th century. 

Even so, beetle epidemics are natural processes that cycle over time and are one of nature's ways of rejuvenating forests.  During an epidemic stage, there are millions of beetles killing thousands of acres of mature trees. The beetles kill the mature trees and leave the young trees, which become the next forest.  

On a landscape-scale, the duration and extent of a beetle outbreak cannot be predicted.   However, not all impacts will be negative.  Positive changes may result from the natural thinning of some stands, improved watershed yield, im­proved wildlife habitat, and enhanced biological diversity. Trees reproduce and die throughout the life of the forest; in this event, though, the process of trees dying is far more apparent. Even under the worst circumstances that can be envisioned, there will still be a forest; it just may not soon re­semble the forest with which we are now familiar.

What’s the USFS doing about the beetles?

Due to the scale of the current outbreaks and epidemic, management activities are not effectively containing the beetle outbreak and the Forest does not expect to stop the outbreaks.  

Management activities instead center on protecting the public, communities and resources with its partners, and to treat key places in the forest to promote diversity as the forest regenerates.  Greater collaboration is taking place between the USFS, partners and local communities in developing treatment strategies

Currently, the Forest chemically treats high value healthy trees to prevent attack or remove hazard trees at campgrounds and high-use recreation sites where safety is a concern.  On the North Slope, timber sales have been used to manage lodge pole pine stands affected by beetle activity near residences.

To guide future management priorities, a forestwide assessment is underway. The assessment is determining not only the percentage of acres affected but also evaluating the impact on roads, trails, campgrounds, recreation and energy infrastructure, wildfire risks, neighboring communities, watershed, habitat, and other natural resources.  Expected management priorities are:

  • Reduce wildfire hazards to homes, communities, and key watersheds.
  • Reduce falling-tree hazards at recreation areas, roads, trails, and power lines.
  • Increase diversity in the next forest to make it more resilient to beetles and wildfires.

Vegetation management activities (such as prescribed burns and salvage/timber sales) remain an important tool for addressing the increased fire hazard and the dead wood resulting from the beetle outbreaks.  Certain active management tools – such as tree cutting and timber sales -- are restricted to areas outside Wilderness and Inventoried Roadless Areas – which comprise 17% and 51% of the Forest, respectively. While prescribed burning is not prohibited in Wilderness or Roadless Areas, there are constraints and specific process requirements that act to limit the amount of projects undertaken. Thus, a significant portion of impacted stands will not be actively managed and the recovery will be guided by natural processes. 

Stay safe while recreating in areas with beetle activity.

Beetles are one of nature’s ways of renewing forests. During an epidemic stage, millions of acres of trees can be affected.  The beetles kill mature trees and leave the young trees, which become the next for­est.   As the beetle epidemic progresses, we need to change how we recreate in the forest. Follow the guidelines below to stay safe:

  • There are inherent risks whenever you go outdoors. Be aware of your surroundings.  
  • Epidemic will be with us for awhile – that means red, dead trees.
  • Weakened trees can fall without warning, especially during wind events. 
  • Avoid camping or parking vehicles near infected trees.
  • Have equipment with you, such as an ax or chainsaw, to remove fallen trees across roads.
  • Make sure you let someone know where you going and when you will return.