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Utah's spruce forests are vanishing
Beehive State someday could look more like northern Nevada.

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Even if it's right to impede the beetles, Mueller said, no amount of logging could do it.

"It is pretty much equivalent to cloud seeding to stop a hurricane that's already going. It's not going to stop. If the objective is to supply timber for unmet demand, that's something else. I don't support that, but that's a more valid justification," he said.

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Trouble is, there isn't much demand. Where a dozen sawmills once stood along the nearby Fremont River Valley, now there's one. The bottom fell out in the 1990s, when Utah coal mines reacted to high timber prices by shifting to steel or other supports. With a goal of logging about 3 million board feet a year, Fishlake's timber program is a third of its former self.

Thousand Lake Lumber, northwest of Bicknell, became the sole survivor by switching to log-home construction. With the housing crash, it has had to diversify, adding fuel pellets and a now-rising lodge and tourist cabins to its portfolio. Owner Bruce Chappell said the U.S. government is helping his business by selling trees affected by the beetles, but he doubts that will revive other mills.

It's a problem for government agents who need industry partners to battle the beetles. Practically no one in the region does this work anymore. According to a 2007 census survey, only 114 Utahns worked at 16 sawmills.

Fishlake timber that once fetched the government $34 per thousand board feet now goes for $10 to $20. If it goes.

If foresters can't thwart this outbreak, Hebertson believes they soon will start hearing about it from urban Utah. That's because the outbreak is fast heading for the Salt Lake Valley, where it could devastate the Cottonwood canyons.

Beetles now chewing through American Fork Canyon may run out of food there and fly on to Albion Basin, a beloved wildflower day trip. There aren't a lot of young spruce there to replace the ancients, Hebertson said. People will "freak out," but the forests will be different.

"Maybe we just have to get used to our ecosystems changing."

Still, preserving spruce where millions expect to see them is worth a shot. On her advice, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is gathering Cottonwood Canyon seeds. After all, the spruce aren't going to replant themselves.

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bloomis@sltrib.com Danielle Reboletti, below, an entomologist for the U.S. Forest Service, searches for spruce beetles on a downed Engelmann spruce in Fishlake National Forest. By selling trees killed by the beetles, the government is helping Thousand Lake Lumber, a company northwest of Bicknell that specializes in log-home construction, fuel pellets and lodge and tourist cabins. At left, carpenter Duane Platt works on a log home in Lyman.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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