HELENA Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest officials said recently that one of the most popular areas in the forest, Crystal Lake Campground Area, will be closed for camping for the next few season because of “hazard trees.”

After many trees in the area fell during a heavy snowfall during the winter, officials began to suspect there was a problem with the tree-stand.

“This is from extensive stem decay and root disease,” explained Helena – Lewis & Clark Culturist, Matt Voigt.

After a thorough forest health assessment, trees were flagged, and a fire crew came.

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Of the 127 trees cut down, 125 had root disease or stem decay.

“You can see the rot, and this amount of wood, less than an inch, was what was keeping this tree up,”explained Judith Mussel Shell District Ranger, Ron Wiseman.

The National Forests’ culturists, or tree experts, said the tree-stand at the Crystal Lake Campground area is old, with trees ranging from 250 to 280 years in age. Younger trees have the vigor to fight against the diseases that are common in the area, but older trees don’t have the defenses which making them much more susceptible to be overcome by the diseases.

As Ron Wiseman walked into the campsite, he pointed to the trees and exclaimed, “It seems like a nice green forest. Yeah, nice green forest. That’s what’s so dangerous about it. Highly deceiving.”

Officials estimated that more than 50 percent of the trees are infected.

The culturists bore into the trees to get a core sample.

“Look at that! This is all rotten material,” exclaimed Voigt.

Even after infected trees are removed, officials have to worry about the phenomenon known as the “stand unraveling effect,” or wind patterns that were previously not in the tree-stand knocking down healthy trees that aren’t acclimated to the heavy gusts.

“What you don’t want have happen is like a domino effect where one tree hits another tree,” explained Wiseman.

With lack of fires and other impact, this development isn’t surprising to Voigt.

“It’s always disheartening to see a lot of dead trees, but it’s also kind of the nature of forestry. I don’t want to sound cheesy with the circle of life analogy here, but you know the forest is always going to find a way to clean itself up and regenerate itself, and this is what it’s doing.”

Officials said while the main campground is closed, the picnic area, boat ramp, and trails are open for public day-use.

The group campsite, where the fire crew felled the trees, is open by reservation only; with an eight tent pad as well as a paved section that can accommodate four campers.

Officials said they’re in the process of determining whether the timber has commercial value, or if they need to select contractors to just remove the hazardous trees.