Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Washington state park on horns of dilema

Like many of the park systems around the nation, Washington State is struggling with economics. With fewer and fewer dollars being handed out by the legislature, parks are struggling to 'make it' with locally generated revenue: Read that park fees.

One of the revenue jewels of the Washington State Parks' system is 109-acre Kopachuck, a boat-in and drive-in camping park. In these days of budget (and throat) cutting, Kopachuck is a revenue producing park--the money gleaned from campground fees actually offsets operational costs. But trouble has appeared in this paradise, not in the form of a serpent, but rather a fungus called Phellinus weirii. Phellinus infesting conifirs can produce a serious illness called laminated root rot.

After trees fell in another Washington state park, officials set out on a health-care check of all other parks. Tree biologists found laminated root rot in the huge fir trees surrounding Kopachuck's campground. It's a kind of insidious thing: The big trees look just fine, until one day, they simply keel over and crash into the ground, taking picnic baskets, tents, and unfortunate bystanders with them.

Left to themselves, the big fir trees have a cure for the problem: Once the tree dies, the root rot dies along with it. The trouble is, it can take a long time for the trees to finally fall over and "take out" the fungus with them. Meantime, the state worries about the potential liability issues. An alternative solution is to cut down the infected trees and sell them off as timber before the root fungus kills the tree. Not everyone likes the idea, even though there would be a short-term gain from the sale of the timber. But here's another bug in paradise: Kopachuck is also home to bark beetles, which find dead wood a great meal. But if you stress the forest by cutting down diseased trees, the bark beetle population will explode, and they may start taking to healthy, living trees.

It's a damned-if-you, damned-if-don't proposition. So far the state agency that oversees the park hasn't decided what to do. To protect visitors they have closed the campground, leaving the beach and day-use area open. Some worry this could leave Kopachuck vulnerable to the next legislative session's round of budget cutting axe wielders. Without the revenue producing side of the park up and running, the park will fall into the realm of a budget-sucker, ripe for closing up.

photos: Kopachuck beach scene, kfkirsch on flickr.com; laminated root rot, B.C. Ministry of Forests and Range.

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