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Forest thinning ramping up on Game and Parks properties

CHADRON, Neb. – Forest thinning is either underway or scheduled to begin soon at three Nebraska Game and Parks Commission properties in the Pine Ridge near Crawford and Harrison.

A skidder piles cut pine trees at Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

The projects consist of 258 acres at Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area, 84 acres at Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area, and 80 acres at Fort Robinson State Park. The work is beginning this spring and will continue into fall.

Most of the efforts are targeting stands of ponderosa pine trees, which, as with other forests throughout the West, have become dense from generations of fire suppression. Thinning the forests, especially when combined with other management strategies, makes them more resilient to dangerous and costly catastrophic wildfires and improves wildlife habitat.

Targeted areas are on the south portion of Gilbert-Baker, the Giant’s Coffin and Lover’s Leap butte vicinity on the east side of Fort Robinson, and the east side of Rim of the World Road at Ponderosa.

Bryce Gerlach, a forester for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the National Wild Turkey Federation, said thinning on about one-third of the Gilbert-Baker acreage is designed to improve riparian health along Monroe Creek by removal of pines and junipers that are competing with deciduous species.

He noted the projects at Gilbert-Baker and Ponderosa will supplement the 2,200 acres on Pine Ridge wildlife management areas that, in recent years, have been treated with thinning and removal of “ladder fuels,” the brush and other vegetation that helps wildfires climb trees.

Game and Parks biologist Shelley Steffl said this marks the third forest management project at Fort Robinson within the past four years, and will bring the total of treated acres to 237 there. She said the projects not only are meeting forestry and wildlife objectives at Fort Robinson, but also lessening the wildfire risk for nearby Crawford. The work complements the extensive thinning and forest management that has been completed at another Pine Ridge Game and Parks attraction, Chadron State Park.

Visitors should use caution when thinning operations are in progress. Land managers say that although the projects may affect recreation for park and wildland users this year, they are sure to bring benefits of more healthy and sustainable forests for generations to come.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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