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In brief: Whitebark pines enhanced in Kettle River Range

Volunteers manage cover to promote whitebark pine growth in the Kettle River Range (Timothy Coleman / TIMOTHY COLEMAN PHOTO)
Volunteers manage cover to promote whitebark pine growth in the Kettle River Range (Timothy Coleman / TIMOTHY COLEMAN PHOTO)

FORESTS – Whitebark pines, a struggling but ecologically important species, are getting a boost in northeastern Washington from the Colville National Forest and the Kettle Range Conservation Group (KRCG).

Volunteers are hiking into Kettle River Range ridges and peaks with saws and brush cutters to groom areas as needed to promote growth of whitebarks.

Whitebark pines inhabit the harshest subalpine locations and act to prevent soil erosion, retain snowpack, and provide highly nutritious seeds to birds and bears.

Whitebark pine is declining across its range from a combination of invasive blister rust, pine beetle infestation and competition from shade tolerant conifers, Colville National Forest officials said in a release. Blister rust infects nearly half of the whitebarks on the Colville Forest and pine beetle infestations have become the primary agent for declines in larger trees.

Since 2015, the forest’s Whitebark Pine Enhancement Project decision has been using vegetation management, prescribed burning and other methods to help improve growing conditions for whitebarks.

KRCG – with the help of volunteers and contractors – has been thinning around whitebark pines on Copper Butte in the Kettle River Range. Most whitebark pines in this area have been affected by increased competition from younger subalpine fir and by cutting or girdling these younger trees, the whitebark pine will have increased growth and resiliency to pine beetles and other disturbances, forest officials said.

County authority limited over huckleberry pickers

PUBLIC LANDSForest Service announcements that commercial huckleberry picking is illegal on Idaho Panhandle National Forests have prompted a flurry of calls to county sheriff’s offices regarding violators in North Idaho.

But the counties don’t have authority to pinch illegal huckleberry operations unless they’re littering or breaking some other law under their jurisdiction, says Mike Meier in a release from Boundary County Emergency Services.

“Boundary County Sheriff’s Office does not have the authority to enforce the commercial huckleberry picking restriction, that is a charge that needs to be investigated by the Forest Service as we do not have an Idaho law pertaining to commercial picking and selling of huckleberries,” the release says.

“What we can enforce are any violations of the Idaho code, which may include littering, threats, etc. We encourage the public to notify the Forest Service of any suspected commercial huckleberry picking camps and to also notify our office of any camps where there may be violations of Idaho law.

“We will have an increased presence in the forest and popular huckleberry picking locations to help keep potential problems down. The Sheriff’s Office has started a back-country patrol program with the use of a dual-sport motorbike and ATVs to more easily check some of these areas. We have a few of our volunteer Reserve Officers that assist us in these patrol checks.”

Commercial huckleberry picking is prohibited on the national forests to prevent resource damage, avoid conflicts, assure public recreation and to preserve some of a crop that’s an important food source for bears.

Idaho Panhandle National Forests say picking huckleberries with the intent to sell them is considered commercial gathering and is prohibited.