Steamboat Springs Routt National Forest officials say action taken last fall to prevent the spread of the spruce beetle saved 8,000 to 14,000 trees in scenic corridors of Routt County.
Beginning last September, the U.S. Forest Service, with help from the Steamboat Spring Ski and Resort Corp., treated 1,655 dead, beetle-infected trees from the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown on Buffalo Pass, the Steamboat Ski Area, the Upper Elk River area and on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Officials estimate that, as a result of the treatments, which included burning piles of cut trees and peeling the bark off downed trees, some 9 million beetles were destroyed.
"We were finding in excess of 30,000 beetles in our larger Blowdown trees," said Routt National Forest team leader Andy Cadenhead.
He said beetles from a single dead tree can kill four to 10 live trees, creating a devastating cycle of destruction in the forest.
"We feel real good about this," Cadenhead said of the effort, adding that they have not been able to treat all the infected Blowdown trees.
Officials hurriedly began treating trees in smaller Blowdown areas last fall when they realized there wouldn't be enough dead trees to sustain the spruce beetle through the summer, causing the insect would fly into live trees.
He said spruce beetles prefer dead trees that have no defense against infection, to a live trees that do.
Because the spruce beetle is very persistent, the Forest Service will probably have to monitor the beetle for the next 10 to 15 years, Cadenhead said.
"We'll be looking at them every season to see where we can be effective," he said.
The biggest concern for the Forest Service is to protect areas that have scenic or recreational value, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Pipher said.
"It will be interesting to see what happens in the future because most of the Blowdown is in the wilderness," she said.
The areas designated wilderness in the Routt National Forest must sustain the natural process that has been written into the Forest Service plan, Cadenhead said.
Since the spruce beetle infestation following the Blowdown is a natural occurrence, officials will step back and let nature take its course in most of the 13,000 acres of the Blowdown.
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