Work under way to remove beetle-killed trees

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Loggers are removing trees dying or killed by spruce bark beetles to reduce the hazard of wildfire in one of Anchorage' most vulnerable neighborhoods.

In the past four weeks, more than 40 percent of the Spencer Loop next to Hilltop Ski Area has been cleared of beetle-killed spruce trees on both sides of the trail.

The logging is ''low impact,'' as these things go, said Sue Rodman, an Anchorage Fire Department forester and a project manager. A contractor is removing only dead or dying trees, ones that would fall to the ground in a few years anyway.

But the trees are large and the equipment is heavy, and the project's effect on the park is striking. The trail's dirt bed has been loosened by machinery and log dragging. Some living trees have been bruised or, in the case of smaller ones, crushed in the cutting and clearing process.

''It seems like this is too much,'' Pixie Siebe, a longtime parks advocate, said last week during a walk on the Spencer Loop. ''I'm just amazed at how different this looks.''

The city chose the contractor, Moriarty Wood Sales of Chugiak, because the company uses a low-impact skidder to drag the logs out of the woods and down the path, Rodman said.

Jerry Walton, acting manager of the city's Division of Sports and Recreation, promised the wear and tear on the trail will be corrected.

''The damage is no more than when we built the trail,'' Walton said. ''It comes right back. We love our trails and make them usable, and certainly this will be usable this season.''

The Spencer Loop project is one of several projects in the city's Firewise program to reduce the amount of forest fuel that could spread wildfires near Hillside subdivisions.

Most prominent is the culling of spruce trees that have been killed or mortally injured by the decade-long infestation of spruce bark beetles.

Spruce trees also are being cut from a mile-long, 800-foot-wide strip on the southeast corner of the city's Far North Bicentennial Park and in the city's Little Rabbit Creek Bluff Park, a triangle overlooking Potter Marsh and bordered on two sides by large homes.

Federal Bureau of Land Management crews last week began a similar fire-clearing project on the BLM's 730-acre Campbell Tract, within the Far North Bicentennial Park. The cutting will be focused along the southern part of the property, spokeswoman Teresa McPherson said.

Crews have logged other forested areas during the past few years and the city plans more, Walton said.

City and state authorities fear that in a worst-case scenario a fire fed by dead trees could turn into a conflagration, racing up and across the entire Anchorage Hillside neighborhood and consuming hundreds of homes.

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