GREENOUGH - About a year ago, when the mountain pine beetle began to threaten the Lubrecht Experimental Forest, friends of the research station were called to action.

Their mission: Help save the many "legacy" ponderosa and lodgepole pines - some at least 300 years old - that grace and shade the heart of this living laboratory managed by the University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation.

Only money and a last-ditch effort would save the 500 grand trees in and around the public pavilion area, the many cabins, conference center, recreation building and dining hall that define the community area of the 28,000-acre forest.

"The pine beetle population has become so high in this forest, we felt we had to act to insure the health of the legacy trees," said Jim Burchfield, interim dean of the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation.

"We needed to treat the trees with an insecticide called carbaryl, which is sprayed on the trees and when the beetles bore into the tree, they come in contact with it and die."

Neither the chemical nor its application is cheap, and to treat the identified 500 trees would cost $20 per tree, said Kate Cenis, director of development and alumni relations for the College of Forestry and Conservation.

With only a six-month window to raise the money before the 2010 spring hatch of the pine beetle, pleas for help went out to UM's forestry alumni, faculty and friends to lend a hand.

"The response was incredible," Cenis said. "In just a few weeks, we raised over $14,000 and because of that we were able to treat 600 trees."

On Sunday, a small gathering of the forest's friends and guardians came to celebrate a battle won.

While touring the towering giants in and around the camp area, there was a sense of relief among the party.

"This is too pretty a place to lose," said Kathy Bowne, whose husband Louis is a UM forestry alum who teaches forestry and conservation at the Flathead Valley Community College.

"It's a pretty special place."

"We need to see if we can find a product that really works to prevent beetle kill," Louis said. "It's important for these trees, but consider how my millions of acres pine are dying from the beetles."

These survivors will continue to be studied, tested and managed by forestry faculty and students, and all will be looking at the effectiveness of carbaryl and its application method, Burchfield said.

For certain, the trees have survived the 2010 spring and summer beetle assault.

As for the future, anything is possible, Burchfield said, and he's hoping western Montana gets a short-term Arctic-like winter.

"What I'd really like is 30-degree below zero temperatures for two weeks this winter that will knock out the beetle population," Burchfield. "That would be the best scenario.

"If we don't get that, we may have to spray the trees again next year."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

 

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