Residents of the Palouse who frequent Robinson Park — a recreation area and campground about 5 miles east of Moscow — have noticed a recent change in scenery because of tree removal.

By removing the trees, the Latah County Parks and Recreation Department hopes to improve the park’s forest health, as well as reduce the risk of ecologically devastating forest fires.

“Every time you cut down trees, people get emotional — and I’ll be the first to say it, it looks like a bad haircut,” Latah County Commissioner Kathie LaFortune said in reference to recent tree clearing at the park. “But a bad haircut now will help the overall health of the forest down the line.”

The tree species being cleared are mainly Douglas and grand firs, according to Latah County Parks and Recreation Director Andy Grant. The trees are being removed for a number of reasons including root rot and forest overcrowding, which increases the risk of overall forest damage in the event of a fire.

The area has become overgrown, Grant said.

“Robinson Park was historically a Ponderosa pine forest,” Grant said. “Before people began suppressing fires altogether, there were smaller fires every 10 or 20 years that would take out the underbrush and some of the other trees — mostly fir trees that weren’t fire resistant — but (the fires would) leave the larger ponderosa pines.”

Overcrowding in the park was negatively affecting the habitat of the ponderosas, which do best in full sun.

Latah County Parks is working with a forester to identify and remove the trees that have been affected by root rot, overcrowding or are simply nearing the end of their lifespans.

“Unfortunately there were quite a few of them, because it hadn’t been actively managed for a while,” Grant said. “Now there will be more space for the larger ponderosa pines to remain healthy and some of the smaller pines to grow and become larger.”

The project will not eliminate all of any one tree species in the park’s forests, but instead clear enough to ensure forest health and allow sunlight to reach the ponderosas. Planting and reseeding new trees is also part of the work being done in the park.

LaFortune said any money Latah County makes on timber from the tree clearing will be allocated to help cover the cost of the project.

The county is in the process of finishing work in some areas of the park. Grant said he hopes to see trails and other parts of the park that have been closed reopen in July.

“It’s definitely going to be a drastic change at least for the next year or two,” Grant said.“There are only so many trees that can be healthy per acre, and we were over the limit on that. You can either have something like 500 small trees or 100 large trees for a certain area — we’d rather have the 100 large trees.”

Ellen Dennis is the news clerk at the Daily News. She can be reached by email at briefs@dnews.com.

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