Officials: Bark beetle epidemic on horizon

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— Property owners near the Routt National Forest could be at risk of losing their spruce or pine trees from two separate bark beetle epidemics.

Soon, thousands of mountain pine beetles and spruce beetles will come out of their woody winter hibernation and look for mature trees to infest, which can eventually kill the trees. Though it's a natural occurrence in the forest, the insects might not be welcomed by property owners who want to keep their mature spruce or pine trees alive.

How do you tell if you have pine trees or spruce trees on your land? The needles are the best way to tell the difference between spruce and pine trees. On ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine, bunches of needles originate in a single source throughout the tree. So if a group of 10 needles all are growing out of the same place on a branch, it's a pine tree. For Engelmann spruce trees and Colorado spruce trees, the needles are dispersed evenly on the branch. They also are four-sided, very sharp and grow from woody, peg-like bases.

Therefore, forest officials have released a map showing where the beetles are in the urban interface area and are encouraging property owners in those areas to take preventive measures.

The Hahn's Peak area, Mad Creek, Old Town Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Boulevard, Burgess Creek Road, the Steamboat Ski Area vicinity and the Morrison Creek area all had mountain pine beetle sightings last year. Seedhouse Road has had spruce beetle sightings and the Strawberry Park area has both the beetles in the area.

"If (people) live in those areas and they have mature pine or spruce trees, they might want to consider spraying," said Terry Wattles of the Colorado State Forest Service.

The spray is a pesticide called Carbaryl. It only works on a tree that hasn't been infested with the insects yet, said Andy Cadenhead, team leader for the U.S. Forest Service. He explained the pesticide soaks into the bark. When a beetle bores into the tree, it ingests the Carbaryl and dies.

Residents concerned about their spruce trees should act soon. Spruce beetles will be flying in a month, Cadenhead said. But pine beetles probably won't come out of their winter homes until July, so anyone with lodgepole pine or ponderosa pine trees has some time. Cadenhead added that even pine trees that aren't indigenous to the area are threatened by the mountain pine beetle.

Prestige Property Detailing sprayer Eva Littlefield said it's not too expensive to spray a tree.

"It depends on where the tree is and how hard it is to get to, but generally it's $1.50 a foot," she said.

Depending on how long the grow season is, it may take two spraying to ensure success, Littlefield said.

Generally, the mountain pine beetle is the biggest threat to private property. The insect, which is at the height of its 12-year population cycle, is predominately living in lower elevations, Cadenhead said.

The spruce beetle population increase is due to the 1997 Routt Divide Blowdown in north Routt County, where thousands of acres of trees were uprooted by a windstorm. The mass amounts of dead spruce trees, which is ideal spruce beetle habitat, helped the insect's population increase. As time progresses, the spruce beetle will make it into lower elevations, Cadenhead said.

Concerned property owners can call Wattles to get more information at

879-0475. For more information on the mountain pine beetle, log on to www.lamar.colostate.edu/~jchase/mpb.htm.

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